[Footnote 27: This requisition was afterwards augmented to fifteen thousand.]
While steps were taking to bring this force into the field, a last essay was made to render its employment unnecessary. Three distinguished and popular citizens of Pennsylvania were deputed by the government to be the bearers of a general amnesty for past offences, on the sole condition of future obedience to the laws.
It having been deemed adviseable that the executive of the state should act in concert with that of the United States, Governor Mifflin also issued a proclamation, and appointed commissioners to act with those of the general government.
Meanwhile, the insurgents omitted nothing which might enlarge the circle of disaffection. Attempts were made to embark the adjacent counties of Virginia in their cause, and their violence was extended to Morgantown, at which place an inspector resided, who saved himself by flight, and protected his property by advertising on his own door that he had resigned his office. They also made similar excursions into the contiguous counties of Pennsylvania, lying east of the Alleghany mountains, where numbers were ready to join them. These deluded men, giving too much faith to the publications of democratic societies, and to the furious sentiments of general hostility to the administration, and particularly to the internal taxes, with which the papers in the opposition abounded, seem to have entertained the opinion, that the great body of the people were ready to take up arms against their government, and that the resistance commenced by them would spread throughout the union, and terminate in a revolution.
The convention at Parkinson's ferry had appointed a committee of safety consisting of sixty members, who chose fifteen of their body to confer with the commissioners of the United States, and of the state of Pennsylvania. This committee of conference was not empowered to conclude on any thing. They could only receive and report the propositions which might be made to them.
Men of property and intelligence, who had contributed to kindle the flame under the common error of being able to regulate its heat, now trembled at the extent of the conflagration. It had passed the limits they had assigned to it, and was no longer subject to their control.
The committee of conference expressed themselves unanimously in favour of accepting the terms offered by the government, and exerted themselves in the committee of safety to obtain a decision to the same effect. In that committee, the question whether they would submit peaceably to the execution of the law, retaining expressly the privilege of using all constitutional means to effect its repeal, was debated with great zeal. The less violent party carried it by a small majority; but, not thinking themselves authorized to decide for their constituents on so momentous a question, they afterwards resolved that it should be referred to the people.
This reference resulted in demonstrating that, though many were disposed to demean themselves peaceably, yet a vast mass of opposition remained, determined to obstruct the re-establishment of civil authority.
From some causes, among which was disaffection to the particular service, the prospect of bringing the quota of troops required from Pennsylvania into the field, was at first unpromising. But the assembly, which had been summoned by the governor to meet on the first of September, expressed in strong terms its abhorrence of this daring attempt to resist the laws, and to subvert the government of the country; and a degree of ardour and unanimity was displayed by the people of other states, which exceeded the hopes of the most sanguine friends of the administration. Some feeble attempts were indeed made to produce a disobedience to the requisition of the President, by declaring that the people would never be made the instruments of the secretary of the treasury to shed the blood of their fellow citizens; that the representatives of the people ought to be assembled before a civil war was commenced; and by avowing the extravagant opinion that the President could not lawfully call forth the militia of any other state, until actual experiment had ascertained the insufficiency of that of Pennsylvania. But these insidious suggestions were silenced by the general sense of the nation, which loudly and strongly proclaimed that the government and laws must be supported. The officers displayed an unexampled activity; and intelligence from every quarter gave full assurance that, with respect to both numbers and time, the requisitions of the President would be punctually observed.
The governor of Pennsylvania compensated for the defects in the militia law of that state by his personal exertions. From some inadvertence, as was said, on the part of the brigade inspectors, the militia could not be drafted, and consequently the quota of Pennsylvania could be completed only by volunteers. The governor, who was endowed with a high degree of popular elocution, made a circuit through the lower counties of the state, and publicly addressed the militia, at different places where he had caused them to be assembled, on the crisis in the affairs of their country. So successful were these animating exhortations, that Pennsylvania was not behind her sister states in furnishing the quota required from her.
On the 25th of September, the President issued a second proclamation, describing in terms of great energy the obstinate and perverse spirit with which the lenient propositions of the government had been received; and declaring his fixed determination, in obedience to the high and irresistible duty consigned to him by the constitution, "to take care that the laws be faithfully executed," to reduce the refractory to obedience.
The troops of New Jersey and Pennsylvania were directed to rendezvous at Bedford, and those of Maryland and Virginia at Cumberland, on the Potomac. The command of the expedition had been conferred on Governor Lee of Virginia; and the governors of New Jersey and Pennsylvania commanded the militia of their respective states under him.
[Footnote 28: The spirit of disaffection was rapidly spreading, and had it not been checked by this vigorous exertion of the powers of the government, it would be difficult to say what might have been its extent. Even while the militia were assembling, it broke out in more than one county in Pennsylvania, and showed itself in a part of Maryland.]
The President, in person, visited each division of the army; but, being confident that the force employed must look down all resistance, he left the secretary of the treasury to accompany it, and returned himself to Philadelphia, where the approaching session of congress required his presence.
[Sidenote: Quelled by the prompt and vigorous measures of the government.]
From Cumberland and Bedford, the army marched in two divisions into the country of the insurgents. The greatness of the force prevented the effusion of blood. The disaffected did not venture to assemble in arms. Several of the leaders who had refused to give assurances of future submission to the laws were seized, and some of them detained for legal prosecution.
But although no direct and open opposition was made, the spirit of insurrection was not subdued. A sour and malignant temper displayed itself, which indicated, but too plainly, that the disposition to resist had only sunk under the pressure of the great military force brought into the country, but would rise again should that force be withdrawn. It was, therefore, thought adviseable to station for the winter, a detachment to be commanded by Major General Morgan, in the centre of the disaffected country.
Thus, without shedding a drop of blood, did the prudent vigour of the executive terminate an insurrection, which, at one time, threatened to shake the government of the United States to its foundation. That so perverse a spirit should have been excited in the bosom of prosperity, without the pressure of a single grievance, is among those political phenomena which occur not unfrequently in the course of human affairs, and which the statesman can never safely disregard. When real ills are felt, there is something positive and perceptible to which the judgment may be directed, the actual extent of which may be ascertained, and the cause of which may be discerned. But when the mind, inflamed by supposititious dangers, gives a full loose to the imagination, and fastens upon some object with which to disturb itself, the belief that the danger exists seems to become a matter of faith, with which reason combats in vain. Under a government emanating entirely from the people, and with an administration whose sole object was their happiness, the public mind was violently agitated with apprehensions of a powerful and secret combination against liberty, which was to discover itself by the total overthrow of the republican system. That those who were charged with these designs were as destitute of the means, as of the will to effect them, did not shake the firm belief of their existence. Disregarding the apparent partiality of the administration for France, so far as that partiality was compatible with an honest neutrality, the zealots of the day ascribed its incessant labours for the preservation of peace, to a temper hostile to the French republic; and, while themselves loudly imprecating the vengeance of heaven and earth on one of the belligerents, and openly rejoicing in the victories of the other; while impetuously rushing into a war with Britain, and pressing measures which would render accommodation impracticable; they attributed a system calculated to check them in this furious career, not to that genuine American spirit which produced it, but to an influence which, so far as opinions are to depend on facts, has at no time insinuated itself into the councils of the United States.
In popular governments, the resentments, the suspicions, and the disgusts, produced in the legislature by warm debate, and the chagrin of defeat; by the desire of gaining, or the fear of losing power; and which are created by personal views among the leaders of parties, will infallibly extend to the body of the nation. Not only will those causes of dissatisfaction be urged which really operate on the minds of intelligent men, but every instrument will be seized which can effect the purpose, and the passions will be inflamed by whatever may serve to irritate them. Among the multiplied evils generated by faction, it is perhaps not the least, that it has a tendency to abolish all distinction between virtue and vice; and to prostrate those barriers which the wise and good have erected for the protection of morals, and which are defended solely by opinion. The victory of the party becomes the great object; and, too often, all measures are deemed right or wrong, as they tend to promote or impede it. The attainment of the end is considered as the supreme good, and the detestable doctrine is adopted that the end will justify the means. The mind, habituated to the extenuation of acts of moral turpitude, becomes gradually contaminated, and loses that delicate sensibility which instinctively inspires horror for vice, and respect for virtue.
In the intemperate abuse which was cast on the principal measures of the government, and on those who supported them; in the violence with which the discontents of the opponents to those measures were expressed; and especially in the denunciations which were uttered against them by the democratic societies; the friends of the administration searched for the causes of that criminal attempt which had been made in the western parts of Pennsylvania, to oppose the will of the nation by force of arms. Had those misguided men believed that this opposition was to be confined within their own narrow limits, they could not have been so mad, or so weak as to have engaged in it.
The ideas of the President on this subject were freely given to several of his confidential friends. "The real people" he said, "occasionally assembled in order to express their sentiments on political subjects, ought never to be confounded with permanent self-appointed societies, usurping the right to control the constituted authorities, and to dictate to public opinion. While the former was entitled to respect, the latter was incompatible with all government, and must either sink into general disesteem, or finally overturn the established order of things."
[Sidenote: Meeting of congress.]
In his speech, at the opening of congress, the President detailed at considerable length the progress of opposition to the laws, the means employed both by the legislature and executive to appease the discontents which had been fomented, and the measures which he had finally taken to reduce the refractory to submission.
[Footnote 29: The impression, he said, made by this moderation on the discontented, did not correspond with what it deserved. The acts of delusion were no longer confined to the efforts of designing individuals. The very forbearance to press prosecutions was misinterpreted into a fear of urging the execution of the laws, and associations of men began to denounce threats against the officers employed. From a belief that by a more formal concert their operations might be defeated, certain self-created societies assumed the tone of condemnation.]
As Commander-in-chief of the militia when called into actual service, he had, he said, visited the places of general rendezvous, to obtain more correct information, and to direct a plan for ulterior movements. Had there been room for a persuasion that the laws were secure from obstruction, he should have caught with avidity at the opportunity of restoring the militia to their families and homes. But succeeding intelligence had tended to manifest the necessity of what had been done, it being now confessed by those who were not inclined to exaggerate the ill conduct of the insurgents, that their malevolence was not pointed merely to a particular law; but that a spirit inimical to all order had actuated many of the offenders.
After bestowing a high encomium on the alacrity and promptitude with which persons in every station had come forward to assert the dignity of the laws, thereby furnishing an additional proof that they understood the true principles of government and liberty, and felt their inseparable union; he added—
[Sidenote: Democratic societies.]
"To every description indeed of citizens, let praise be given. But let them persevere in their affectionate vigilance over that precious depository of American happiness,—the constitution of the United States. And when in the calm moments of reflection, they shall have retraced the origin and progress of the insurrection, let them determine whether it has not been fomented by combinations of men, who, careless of consequences, and disregarding the unerring truth that those who rouse can not always appease a civil convulsion, have disseminated, from an ignorance or perversion of facts, suspicions, jealousies, and accusations of the whole government."
The President could not omit this fair occasion, once more to press on congress a subject which had always been near his heart. After mentioning the defectiveness of the existing system, he said—
"The devising and establishing of a well regulated militia, would be a genuine source of legislative honour, and a perfect title to public gratitude. I therefore entertain a hope that the present session will not pass without carrying to its full energy the power of organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia; and thus providing, in the language of the constitution, for calling them forth to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions."
After mentioning the intelligence from the army under the command of General Wayne, and the state of Indian affairs, he again called the attention of the house of representatives to a subject scarcely less interesting than a system of defence against external and internal violence.
"The time," he said, "which has elapsed since the commencement of our fiscal measures, has developed our pecuniary resources, so as to open the way for a definitive plan for the redemption of the public debt. It is believed that the result is such as to encourage congress to consummate this work without delay. Nothing can more promote the permanent welfare of the union, and nothing would be more grateful to our constituents. Indeed, whatever is unfinished of our system of public credit, can not be benefited by procrastination; and, as far as may be practicable, we ought to place that credit on grounds which can not be disturbed, and to prevent that progressive accumulation of debt which must ultimately endanger all governments."
He referred to subsequent communications for certain circumstances attending the intercourse of the United States with foreign nations. "However," he added, "it may not be unseasonable to announce that my policy in our foreign transactions has been, to cultivate peace with all the world; to observe treaties with pure and inviolate faith; to check every deviation from the line of impartiality; to explain what may have been misapprehended; and correct what may have been injurious to any nation; and having thus acquired the right, to lose no time in acquiring the ability, to insist upon justice being done to ourselves."
In the senate, an answer was reported which contained the following clause:
"Our anxiety, arising from the licentious and open resistance to the laws in the western counties of Pennsylvania, has been increased by the proceedings of certain self-created societies relative to the laws and administration of the government; proceedings, in our apprehension, founded in political error, calculated, if not intended, to disorganize our government, and which, by inspiring delusive hopes of support, have been instrumental in misleading our fellow citizens in the scene of insurrection."
The address proceeded to express the most decided approbation of the conduct of the President in relation to the insurgents; and, after noticing the different parts of the speech, concluded with saying—
"At a period so momentous in the affairs of nations, the temperate, just, and firm policy that you have pursued in respect to foreign powers, has been eminently calculated to promote the great and essential interest of our country, and has created the fairest title to the public gratitude and thanks."
To this unequivocal approbation of the policy adopted by the executive with regard to foreign nations, no objections were made. The clause respecting democratic societies was seriously opposed; but the party in favour of the administration had been strengthened in the senate by recent events, and the address reported by the committee was agreed to without alteration.
The same spirit did not prevail in the house of representatives. In that branch of the legislature, the opposition party continued to be the most powerful, and the respect of their leaders for the person and character of the chief magistrate was visibly diminishing. His interference with a favourite system was not forgotten, and the mission of Mr. Jay still rankled in their bosoms.
The address prepared by the committee, to whom the speech was referred, omitted to notice those parts which respected self created societies, the victory of General Wayne, and the policy observed by the executive in its intercourse with foreign nations. On a motion being made by Mr. Dayton to amend it, by inserting a clause which should express the satisfaction of the house at the success of the army under General Wayne, Mr. Madison said, that it had been the wish of the committee who framed the address, to avoid the minutia of the speech: but as a desire was manifested to amplify particular parts, it might not be amiss to glance at the policy observed towards foreign nations. He therefore moved to amend the amendment by adding the words, "solicitous also as we are for the preservation of peace with all nations, we can not otherwise than warmly approve of a policy in our foreign transactions, which keeps in view as well the maintenance of our national rights, as the continuance of that blessing." Mr. Hillhouse wished the word your to be substituted for the article a, that the answer might point, not to an abstract policy, but to that of the executive, and thus have a direct application to the speech. This motion produced a warm discussion, which terminated in a request that Mr. Madison would withdraw his amendment; the friends of the administration being of opinion, that it was more eligible to pass over that part of the speech in silence, than to answer it in terms so equivocal as those to which alone the house seemed willing to assent.
A proposition was then made by Mr. Fitzsimmons to introduce into the address, a clause declaring, that "in tracing the origin and progress of the insurrection, they (the house of representatives) entertain no doubt that certain self created societies and combinations of men, careless of consequences, and disregarding truth, by disseminating suspicions, jealousies, and accusations of the government, have had an influence in fomenting this daring outrage against the principles of social order, and the authority of the laws."
This attempt to censure certain organized assemblages of factious individuals, who, under the imposing garb of watchfulness over liberty, concealed designs subversive of all those principles which preserve the order, the peace, and the happiness of society, was resisted by the whole force of the opposition. A very eloquent and animated debate ensued, which terminated in the committee, by striking out the words "self created societies;" forty-seven voting for, and forty-five against expunging them. The question was resumed in the house; and, the chairman of the committee being opposed in sentiment to the speaker, who was now placed in the chair, the majority was precisely changed, and the words were reinstated. This victory, however, if it may be termed one, was soon lost. A motion for confining the censure to societies and combinations within the four western counties of Pennsylvania and the adjacent country, succeeded by the casting vote of the speaker, upon which, the friends of the amendment gave it up, and the address was voted without expressing any sentiment on the subject.
This triumph over the administration revived, for a moment, the drooping energies of these pernicious societies. But it was only for a moment. The agency ascribed to them by the opinion of the public, as well as of the President, in producing an insurrection which was generally execrated, had essentially affected them; and while languishing under this wound, they received a deadly blow from a quarter whence hostility was least expected.
The remnant of the French convention, rendered desperate by the ferocious despotism of the Jacobins, and of the sanguinary tyrant who had made himself their chief; perceiving that the number of victims who were immolated as his caprice might suggest, instead of satiating, could only stimulate his appetite for blood, had, at length, sought for safety by boldly confronting danger; and, succeeding in a desperate attempt to bring Robespierre to the guillotine, had terminated his reign of terror. The colossean power of the clubs, which had been abused to an excess that gives to faithful history the appearance of fiction, fell with that of their favourite member, and they sunk into long merited disgrace. The means by which their political influence had been maintained were wrested from them; and, in a short time, their meetings were prohibited. Not more certain is it that the boldest streams must disappear, if the fountains which fed them be emptied, than was the dissolution of the democratic societies of America, when the Jacobin clubs were denounced by France. As if their destinies depended on the same thread, the political death of the former was the unerring signal for that of the latter; and their expiring struggles, incapable of deferring their fate, only attested the reluctance with which they surrendered their much abused power.
Notwithstanding the disagreement between the executive and one branch of the legislature concerning self created societies, and the policy observed towards foreign nations, the speech of the President was treated with marked respect; and the several subjects which it recommended, engaged the immediate attention of congress. A bill was passed authorizing the President to station a detachment of militia in the four western counties of Pennsylvania; provision was made to compensate those whose property had been destroyed by the insurgents, should those who had committed the injury be unable to repair it: and an appropriation exceeding one million one hundred thousand dollars was made to defray the expenses occasioned by the insurrection.
Many of the difficulties which had occurred in drawing out the militia were removed, and a bill was introduced to give greater energy to the militia system generally; but this subject possessed so many intrinsic difficulties, that the session passed away without effecting any thing respecting it.
A bill for the gradual redemption of the national debt was more successful. The President had repeatedly and earnestly recommended to the legislature the adoption of measures which might effect this favourite object; but, although that party which had been reproached with a desire to accumulate debt as a means of subverting the republican system had uniformly manifested a disposition to carry this recommendation into effect, their desire had hitherto been opposed by obstacles they were unable to surmount. Professions of an anxious solicitude to discharge the national engagements, without providing the means of actual payment, might gratify those who consider words as things, but would be justly estimated by men, who, neither condemning indiscriminately, nor approving blindly, all the measures of government, expect that, in point of fact, it shall be rightly and honestly administered. On the friends of the administration, therefore, it was incumbent to provide real, substantial funds, which should attest the sincerity of their professions. This provision could not be made without difficulty. The duty on imported articles, and on tonnage, though rapidly augmenting, could not, immediately, be rendered sufficiently productive to meet, alone, the various exigencies of the treasury, and yield a surplus for the secure establishment of a permanent fund to redeem the principal of the debt. Additional sources of revenue must therefore be explored, or the idea of reducing the debt be abandoned. New taxes are the never failing sources of discontent to those who pay them, and will ever furnish weapons against those who impose them, too operative not to be seized by their antagonists. In a government where popularity is power, it requires no small degree of patriotism to encounter the odium which, however urgently required, they seldom fail to excite. Ready faith is given to the declaration that they are unjust, tyrannical, and unnecessary; and no inconsiderable degree of firmness is requisite to persevere in a course attended with so much political hazard. The opposition made to the internal taxes, which commenced in congress, had extended itself through the community. Although only the act imposing duties on spirits distilled within the United States had been resisted by force, yet such a degree of irritation was manifested against the whole system, as to evince the repugnance with which a large portion of the people saw it go into operation. The duties on refined sugars, and manufactured tobacco, especially, were censured in terms which would authorize an opinion that a defect of power, rather than of will, to resist the execution of the law, confined some of its opponents to remonstrances. Nothing could be more unfriendly than this spirit, to the reduction of the debt.
The reports of the secretary of the treasury having suggested the several steps which had been taken by congress in the system of internal taxation, he was justly considered as its author. The perseverance which marked the character of this officer, gave full assurance that no clamour would deter him from continuing to recommend measures which he believed to be essential to the due administration of the finances. That the establishment of public credit on a sound basis was all important to the character and prosperity of the United States, constituted one of those political maxims to which he invariably adhered; and to effect it completely, seems to have been among the first objects of his ambition. He had bestowed upon this favourite subject the most attentive consideration; and while the legislature was engaged in the discussions of a report made by a select committee on a resolution moved by Mr. Smith, of South Carolina, purporting that further provision ought to be made for the reduction of the debt, addressed a letter to the house of representatives, through their speaker, informing them that he had digested and prepared a plan on the basis of the actual revenues, for the further support of public credit, which he was ready to communicate.
This comprehensive and valuable report presented the result of his laborious and useful investigations, on a subject equally intricate and interesting.
This was the last official act of Colonel Hamilton. The penurious provision made for those who filled the high executive departments in the American government, excluded from a long continuance in office all those whose fortunes were moderate, and whose professional talents placed a decent independence within their reach. While slandered as the accumulator of thousands by illicit means, Colonel Hamilton had wasted in the public service great part of the property acquired by his previous labours, and had found himself compelled to decide on retiring from his political station. The accusations brought against him in the last session of the second congress had postponed the execution of this design, until opportunity should be afforded for a more full investigation of his official conduct; but he informed the President that, on the close of the session, to meet in December, 1793, he should resign his situation in the administration. The events which accumulated about that time, and which were, he said in a letter to the President, of a nature to render the continuance of peace in a considerable degree precarious, deferred his meditated retreat. "I do not perceive," he added, "that I could voluntarily quit my post at such a juncture, consistently with considerations either of duty or character; and therefore, I find myself reluctantly obliged to defer the offer of my resignation.
"But if any circumstances should have taken place in consequence of the intimation of an intention to resign, or should otherwise exist, which serve to render my continuance in office in any degree inconvenient or ineligible, I beg leave to assure you, sir, that I should yield to them with all the readiness naturally inspired by an impatient desire to relinquish a situation, in which, even a momentary stay is opposed by the strongest personal and family reasons, and could only be produced by a sense of duty or reputation."
[Sidenote: Resignation of Colonel Hamilton.]
Assurances being given by the President, of the pleasure with which the intelligence, that he would continue at his post through the crisis, was received, he remained in office until the commencement of the ensuing year. On the 1st of December, immediately on his return from the western country, the dangers of domestic insurrection or foreign war having subsided, he gave notice that he should on the last day of January give in his resignation.
Seldom has any minister excited the opposite passions of love and hate in a higher degree than Colonel Hamilton. His talents were too pre-eminent not to receive from all the tribute of profound respect; and his integrity and honour as a man, not less than his official rectitude, though slandered at a distance, were admitted to be superior to reproach, by those enemies who knew him.
But with respect to his political principles and designs, the most contradictory opinions were entertained. While one party sincerely believed his object to be the preservation of the constitution of the United States in its original purity; the other, with perhaps equal sincerity, imputed to him the insidious intention of subverting it. While his friends were persuaded, that as a statesman, he viewed all foreign nations with an equal eye; his enemies could perceive in his conduct, only hostility to France and attachment to her rival.
It was his fortune to hold a conspicuous station in times which were peculiarly tempestuous, and under circumstances peculiarly unfavourable to the fair action of the judgment. In the midst of prejudices against the national debt, which had taken deep root, and had long been nourished, he was called to the head of a department, whose duty it was to contend with those prejudices, and to offer a system which, in doing justice to the creditor of the public, might retrieve the reputation of his country. While the passions were inflamed by a stern contest between the advocates of a national, and of state governments, duties were assigned to him, in the execution of which there were frequent occasions to manifest his devotion to the former. When a raging fever, caught from that which was desolating France, and exhibiting some of its symptoms, had seized the public mind, and reached its understanding, it was unfavourable to his quiet, and perhaps to his fame, that he remain uninfected by the disease. He judged the French revolution without prejudice; and had the courage to predict that it could not terminate in a free and popular government.
Such opinions, at such a time, could not fail to draw a load of obloquy upon a man whose frankness gave them publicity, and whose boldness and decision of character insured them an able and steady support. The suspicions they were calculated to generate, derived great additional force from the political theories he was understood to hold. It was known that, in his judgment, the constitution of the United States was rather chargeable with imbecility, than censurable for its too great strength; and that the real sources of danger to American happiness and liberty, were to be found in its want of the means to effect the objects of its institution;—in its being exposed to the encroachments of the states,—not in the magnitude of its powers. Without attempting to conceal these opinions, he declared his perfect acquiescence in the decision of his country; his hope that the issue would be fortunate; and his firm determination, in whatever might depend upon his exertions, to give the experiment the fairest chance for success. No part of his political conduct has been perceived, which would inspire doubts of the sincerity of these declarations. His friends may appeal with confidence to his official acts, to all his public conduct, for the refutation of those charges which were made against him while at the head of the treasury department, and were continued, without interruption, till he ceased to be the object of jealousy.
In the esteem and good opinion of the President, to whom he was best known, Colonel Hamilton at all times maintained a high place. While balancing on the mission to England, and searching for a person to whom the interesting negotiation with that government should be confided, the mind of the chief magistrate was directed, among others, to this gentleman. He carried with him out of office, the same cordial esteem for his character, and respect for his talents, which had induced his appointment.
[Footnote 30: The apprehensions entertained by the opposition that Colonel Hamilton would be appointed on the embassy to England were extreme. Among the letters to General Washington, are some from members of each branch of the legislature, advising against the mission generally, and dissuading him from the appointment of Colonel Hamilton particularly, in terms which manifest a real opinion that the best interests of the nation would be sacrificed by such an appointment. Colonel Hamilton himself recommended Mr. Jay.]
[Footnote 31: See note No. X. at the end of the volume.]
[Sidenote: Is succeeded by Mr. Wolcott.]
The vacant office of secretary of the treasury was filled by Mr. Wolcott, of Connecticut, a gentleman of sound judgment, who was well versed in its duties. He had served as comptroller for a considerable time, and in that situation, had been eminently useful to the head of the department.
The report of the select committee recommended additional objects for internal taxation, and that the temporary duties already imposed should be rendered permanent. The opposition made to this important part of the system was so ardent, and so persevering, that, though the measure was taken up early in the session, the bill did not pass the house of representatives until late in February. Not only were the taxes proposed by the friends of the administration encountered successively by popular objections, urged with all the vehemence of passion, and zeal of conviction, but it was with extreme difficulty that the duties on sugar refined, and tobacco manufactured, within the United States, could be rendered permanent. When gentlemen were urged to produce a substitute for the system they opposed, a direct tax was mentioned with approbation; but no disposition was shown to incur the responsibility of becoming the patrons of such a measure. At length, by the most persevering exertions of the federal party, the bill was carried through the house; and thus was that system adopted, which, if its operations shall not be disturbed, and if no great accumulations of debt be made, will, in a few years, discharge all the engagements of the United States.
On the third of March, this important session was ended. Although the party hostile to the administration had obtained a small majority in one branch of the legislature, several circumstances had occurred to give great weight to the recommendations of the President. Among these may be reckoned the victory obtained by General Wayne, and the suppression of the western insurrection. In some points, however, which he had pressed with earnestness, his sentiments did not prevail. One of these was a bill introduced into the senate for preserving peace with the Indians, by protecting them from the intrusions and incursions of the whites.
From the commencement of his administration, the President had reviewed this subject with great interest, and had permitted scarcely a session of congress to pass away, without pressing it on the attention of the legislature. It had been mentioned in his speech at the commencement of the present session, and had been further enforced by a message accompanying a report made upon it by the secretary of war. The following humane sentiments, extracted from that report, are characteristic of the general views of the administration.
"It seems that our own experience would demonstrate the propriety of endeavouring to preserve a pacific conduct in preference to a hostile one with the Indian tribes. The United States can get nothing by an Indian war; but they risk men, money, and reputation. As we are more powerful and more enlightened than they are, there is a responsibility of national character that we should treat them with kindness, and even with liberality."
The plan suggested in this report was, to add to those arrangements respecting trade, which were indispensable to the preservation of peace, a chain of garrisoned posts within the territory of the Indians, provided their assent to the measure should be obtained; and to subject all those who should trespass on their lands to martial law. A bill founded on this report passed the senate, but was lost, in the house of representatives, by a small majority.
[Sidenote: Resignation of General Knox.]
This report preceded the resignation of the secretary of war but a few days. This valuable officer, too, was driven from the service of the public, by the scantiness of the compensation allowed him.
On the 28th of December, 1794, he addressed a letter to the President giving him official notice that, with the year, his services as secretary for the department of war would cease. This resolution had long before been verbally communicated.
"After having served my country," concluded the letter, "near twenty years, the greater portion of the time under your immediate auspices, it is with extreme reluctance I find myself constrained to withdraw from so honourable a situation. But the natural and powerful claims of a numerous family will no longer permit me to neglect their essential interests.
"In whatever situation I shall be, I shall recollect your confidence and kindness with all the fervour and purity of affection, of which a grateful heart is susceptible."
In the letter accepting his resignation, the President expressed the regret it occasioned, and added:
"I can not suffer you, however, to close your public service, without uniting to the satisfaction which must arise in your own mind from conscious rectitude, assurances of my most perfect persuasion that you have deserved well of your country.
"My personal knowledge of your exertions, while it authorizes me to hold this language, justifies the sincere friendship which I have borne you, and which will accompany you in every situation of life."
[Sidenote: Is succeeded by Colonel Pickering.]
Colonel Pickering, a gentleman who had filled many important offices through the war of the revolution; who had discharged several trusts of considerable confidence under the present government; and who at the time was postmaster general, was appointed to succeed him.
On the seventh of March, the treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation, between the United States and Great Britain, which had been signed by the ministers of the two nations, on the 19th of the preceding November, was received at the office of state.
[Sidenote: Treaty between the United States and Great Britain.]
From his arrival in London on the 15th of June, Mr. Jay had been assiduously and unremittingly employed on the arduous duties of his mission. By a deportment respectful, yet firm, mingling a decent deference for the government to which he was deputed, with a proper regard for the dignity of his own, this minister avoided those little asperities which frequently embarrass measures of great concern, and smoothed the way to the adoption of those which were suggested by the real interests of both nations. Many and intricate were the points to be discussed. On some of them an agreement was found to be impracticable; but, at length, a treaty was concluded, which Mr. Jay declared to be the best that was attainable, and which he believed it for the interests of the United States to accept. Indeed it was scarcely possible to contemplate the evidences of extreme exasperation which were given in America, and the nature of the differences which subsisted between the two countries, without feeling a conviction that war was inevitable, should this attempt to adjust those differences prove unsuccessful.
[Footnote 32: In a private letter to the President, of the same date with the signature of the treaty, Mr. Jay said "to do more was impossible. I ought not to conceal from you, that the confidence reposed in your personal character was visible and useful throughout the negotiation.
"If there is not a good disposition in the far greater part of the cabinet and nation towards us, I am exceedingly mistaken. I do not mean an ostensible and temporizing, but a real good disposition.—I wish it may have a fair trial."]
On Monday, the 8th of June, the senate, in conformity with the summons of the President, convened in the senate chamber, and the treaty, with the documents connected with it, were submitted to their consideration.
On the 24th of June, after a minute and laborious investigation, the senate, by precisely a constitutional majority, advised and consented to its conditional ratification.
An insuperable objection existed to an article regulating the intercourse with the British West Indies, founded on a fact which is understood to have been unknown to Mr. Jay. The intention of the contracting parties was to admit the direct intercourse between the United States and those islands, but not to permit the productions of the latter to be carried to Europe in the vessels of the former. To give effect to this intention, the exportation from the United States of those articles which were the principal productions of the islands was to be relinquished. Among these was cotton. This article, which a few years before was scarcely raised in sufficient quantity for domestic consumption, was becoming one of the richest staples of the southern states. The senate being informed of this fact, advised and consented that the treaty should be ratified on condition that an article be added thereto, suspending that part of the twelfth article which related to the intercourse with the West Indies.
Although, in the mind of the President, several objections to the treaty had occurred, they were overbalanced by its advantages; and before transmitting it to the senate, he had resolved to ratify it, if approved by that body. The resolution of the senate presented difficulties which required consideration. Whether they could advise and consent to an article which had not been laid before them; and whether their resolution was to be considered as the final exercise of their power, were questions not entirely free from difficulty. Nor was it absolutely clear that the executive could ratify the treaty, under the advice of the senate, until the suspending article should be introduced into it. A few days were employed in the removal of these doubts, at the expiration of which, intelligence was received from Europe which suspended the resolution which the President had formed.
The English papers contained an account, which, though not official, was deemed worthy of credit, that the order of the 8th of June, 1793, for the seizure of provisions going to French ports, was renewed. In the apprehension that this order might be construed and intended as a practical construction of that article in the treaty which seemed to favour the idea that provisions, though not generally contraband, might occasionally become so, a construction in which he had determined not to acquiesce, the President thought it wise to reconsider his decision. Of the result of this reconsideration, there is no conclusive testimony. A strong memorial against this objectionable order was directed; and the propositions to withhold the ratifications of the treaty until the order should be repealed; to make the exchange of ratifications dependent upon that event; and to adhere to his original purpose of pursuing the advice of the senate, connecting with that measure the memorial which had been mentioned, as an act explanatory of the sense in which his ratification was made, were severally reviewed by him. In conformity with his practice of withholding his opinion on controverted points until it should become necessary to decide them, he suspended his determination on these propositions until the memorial should be prepared and laid before him. In the meantime, his private affairs required that he should visit Mount Vernon.
So restless and uneasy was the temper respecting foreign nations, that no surprise ought to be excited at the anxiety which was felt on the negotiation of a treaty with Great Britain, nor at the means which were used, before its contents were known, to extend the prejudices against it.
Great umbrage was taken at the mysterious secrecy in which the negotiation had been involved. That the instrument itself was not immediately communicated to the public, and that the senate deliberated upon it with closed doors, were considered as additional evidences of the contempt in which their rulers held the feelings and understandings of the people, and of the monarchical tendencies of the government. Crowned heads, it was loudly repeated, who were machinating designs subversive of the rights of man, and the happiness of nations, might well cover with an impenetrable veil, their dark transactions; but republics ought to have no secrets. In republics, those to whom power was delegated, being the servants of the people, acting solely for their benefit, ought to transact all national affairs in open day. This doctrine was not too absurd for the extravagance of the moment.
The predetermined hostility to the treaty increased in activity, as the period for deciding its fate approached. On its particular merits, no opinion could be formed, because they were unknown; but on the general question of reconciliation between the two countries, a decisive judgment was extensively made up. The sentiments called forth by the occasion demonstrated, that no possible adjustment of differences with Great Britain, no possible arrangement which might promise a future friendly intercourse with that nation, could be satisfactory. The President was openly attacked; his whole system strongly condemned; and the mission of Mr. Jay, particularly, was reprobated in terms of peculiar harshness. That a treaty of amity and commerce should have been formed, whatever might be its principles, was a degrading insult to the American people; a pusillanimous surrender of their honour; and an insidious injury to France. Between such a compact, and an alliance, no distinction was taken. It was an abandonment of the ancient ally of the United States, whose friendship had given them independence, and whose splendid victories still protected them, for a close connexion with her natural enemy, and with the enemy of human liberty.
The pretended object of the mission, it was said, was a reparation for wrongs, not a contaminating connexion with the most faithless and corrupt court in the world. The return of the envoy without that reparation, was a virtual surrender of the claim. The honour of the United States required a peremptory demand of the immediate surrender of the western posts, and of compensation for the piratical depredations committed on their commerce; not a disgraceful and humiliating negotiation. The surrender, and the compensation, ought to have been made instantly; for no reliance could be placed in promises to be performed in future.
That the disinclination formerly manifested by Great Britain, to give the stability and certainty of compact to the principles regulating the commercial intercourse between the two countries, had constituted an important item in the catalogue of complaints against that power: that the existence, or non-existence of commercial treaties had been selected as the criterion by which to regulate the discriminations proposed to be made in the trade of foreign nations; that, in the discussion on this subject, the favourers of commercial hostility had uniformly supported the policy of giving value to treaties with the United States; these opinions were instantly relinquished by the party which had strenuously asserted them while urged by their leaders in congress; and it was imputed as a crime to the government, and to its negotiator, that he had proceeded further than to demand immediate and unconditional reparation of the wrongs sustained by the United States.
The most strenuous and unremitting exertions to give increased energy to the love which was openly avowed for France, and to the detestation which was not less openly avowed for England, were connected with this course of passionate declamation.
[Footnote 33: See note No. XI. at the end of the volume.]
Such was the state of parties when the senate advised the ratification of the treaty. Although common usage, and a decent respect for the executive, and for a foreign nation, not less than a positive resolution, required that the seal of secrecy should not be broken by the senate, an abstract of this instrument, not very faithfully taken, was given to the public; and on the 29th of June, a senator of the United States transmitted a copy of it to the most distinguished editor of the opposition party in Philadelphia, to be communicated to the public through the medium of the press.
If the negotiation itself had been acrimoniously censured; if amicable arrangements, whatever might be their character, had been passionately condemned; it was not to be expected that the treaty would assuage these pre-existing irritations.
In fact, public opinion did receive a considerable shock, and men uninfested by the spirit of faction felt some disappointment on its first appearance. In national contests, unless there be an undue attachment to the adversary country, few men, even among the intelligent, are sensible of the weakness which may exist in their own pretensions, or can allow their full force to the claims of the other party. If the people at large enter keenly into the points of controversy with a foreign power, they can never be satisfied with any equal adjustment of those points, unless other considerations, stronger than abstract reason, afford that satisfaction; nor will it ever be difficult to prove to them, in a case unassisted by the passions, that in any practicable commercial contract, they give too much, and receive too little.
On no subject whatever have considerations, such as these, possessed more influence than in that which was now brought before the American people. Their operation was not confined to those whose passions urged them to take part in the war, nor to the open enemies of the executive. The friends of peace, and of the administration, had generally received impressions unfavourable to the fair exercise of judgment in the case, which it required time and reflection to efface. Even among them, strong prejudices had been imbibed in favour of France, which the open attempts on the sovereignty of the United States had only weakened; and the matters of controversy with Great Britain had been contemplated with all that partiality which men generally feel for their own interests. With respect to commerce also, strong opinions had been preconceived. The desire to gain admission into the British West India islands, especially, had excited great hostility to that colonial system which had been adopted by every country in Europe; and sufficient allowances were not made for the prejudices by which that system was supported.
The treaty, therefore, when exposed to the public view, found one party prepared for a bold and intrepid attack, but the other, not ready in its defence. An appeal to the passions, the prejudices, and the feelings of the nation, might confidently be made by those whose only object was its condemnation; which reflection, information, and consequently time, were required by men whose first impressions were not in its favour, but who were not inclined to yield absolutely to those impressions.
That a treaty involving a great variety of complicated national interests, and adjusting differences of long standing, which had excited strong reciprocal prejudices, would require a patient and laborious investigation, both of the instrument itself, and of the circumstances under which it was negotiated, before even those who are most conversant in diplomatic transactions could form a just estimate of its merits, would be conceded by all reflecting men. But an immense party in America, not in the habit of considering national compacts, without examining the circumstances under which that with Great Britain had been formed, or weighing the reasons which induced it; without understanding the instrument, and in many instances without reading it, rushed impetuously to its condemnation; and, confident that public opinion would be surprised by the suddenness, or stormed by the fury of the assault, expected that the President would be compelled to yield to its violence.
In the populous cities, meetings of the people were immediately summoned, in order to take into their consideration, and to express their opinions respecting an instrument, to comprehend the full extent of which, a statesman would need deep reflection in the quiet of his closet, aided by considerable inquiry. It may well be supposed that persons feeling some distrust of their capacity to form, intuitively, a correct judgment on a subject so complex, and disposed only to act knowingly, would be unwilling to make so hasty a decision, and consequently be disinclined to attend such meetings. Many intelligent men, therefore, stood aloof, while the most intemperate assumed, as usual, the name of the people; pronounced a definitive and unqualified condemnation of every article in the treaty; and, with the utmost confidence, assigned reasons for their opinions, which, in many instances, had only an imaginary existence; and in some, were obviously founded on the strong prejudices which were entertained with respect to foreign powers. It is difficult to review the various resolutions and addresses to which the occasion gave birth, without feeling some degree of astonishment, mingled with humiliation, at perceiving such proofs of the deplorable fallibility of human reason.
The first meeting was held in Boston. The example of that city was soon followed by New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Charleston; and, as if their addresses were designed at least as much for their fellow citizens as for their President, while one copy was transmitted to him, another was committed to the press. The precedent set by these large cities was followed, with wonderful rapidity, throughout the union; and the spirit in which this system of opposition originated sustained no diminution of violence in its progress.
On the 18th of July, at Baltimore, on his way to Mount Vernon, the President received the resolutions passed by the meeting at Boston, which were enclosed to him in a letter from the select men of that town. The answer to this letter and to these resolutions evinced the firmness with which he had resolved to meet the effort that was obviously making, to control the exercise of his constitutional functions, by giving a promptness and vigour to the expression of the sentiments of a party, which might impose it upon the world as the deliberate judgment of the public.
Addresses to the chief magistrate, and resolutions of town and country meetings, were not the only means which were employed to enlist the American people against the measure which had been advised by the senate. In an immense number of essays, the treaty was critically examined, and every argument which might operate on the judgment or prejudice of the public, was urged in the warm and glowing language of passion. To meet these efforts by counter efforts, was deemed indispensably necessary by the friends of that instrument; and the gazettes of the day are replete with appeals to the passions, and to the reason, of those who are the ultimate arbiters of every political question. That the treaty affected the interests of France not less than those of the United States, was, in this memorable controversy, asserted by the one party, with as much zeal as it was denied by the other. These agitations furnished matter to the President for deep reflection, and for serious regret; but they appear not to have shaken the decision he had formed, or to have affected his conduct otherwise than to induce a still greater degree of circumspection in the mode of transacting the delicate business before him. On their first appearance, therefore, he resolved to hasten his return to Philadelphia, for the purpose of considering, at that place rather than at Mount Vernon, the memorial against the provision order, and the conditional ratification of the treaty. In a private letter to the secretary of state, of the 29th of July, accompanying the official communication of this determination, he stated more at large the motives which induced it. These were, the violent and extraordinary proceedings which were taking place, and might be expected, throughout the union; and his opinion that the memorial, the ratification, and the instructions which were framing, were of such vast magnitude as not only to require great individual consideration, but a solemn conjunct revision.
He viewed the opposition which the treaty was receiving from the meetings in different parts of the union, in a very serious light;—not because there was more weight in any of the objections than was foreseen at first,—for in some of them there was none, and in others, there were gross misrepresentations; nor as it respected himself personally, for that he declared should have no influence on his conduct. He plainly perceived, and was accordingly preparing his mind for, the obloquy which disappointment and malice were collecting to heap upon him. But he was alarmed on account of the effect it might have on France, and the advantage which the government of that country might be disposed to make of the spirit which was at work, to cherish a belief, that the treaty was calculated to favour Great Britain at her expense. Whether she believed or disbelieved these tales, their effect, he said, would be nearly the same.
"To sum up the whole," he added, "in a few words, I have never, since I have been in the administration of the government, seen a crisis which, in my opinion, has been so pregnant with interesting events, nor one from which more is to be apprehended, whether viewed on one side or the other. From New York there is, and I am told will further be, a counter current; but how formidable it may appear I know not. If the same does not take place at Boston and other towns, it will afford but too strong evidence that the opposition is in a manner universal, and would make the ratification a very serious business indeed. But as it respects the French, even counter resolutions would, for the reasons I have already mentioned, do little more than weaken, in a small degree, the effect the other side would have."
[Footnote 34: The chamber of commerce in New York had voted resolutions expressing their approbation of the treaty.]
In a private letter of the 31st of July to the same gentleman, after repeating his determination to return to Philadelphia, and his impression of the wisdom, the temperateness, and the firmness for which the crisis most eminently called; he added, "for there is too much reason to believe, from the pains that have been taken before, at, and since the advice of the senate respecting the treaty, that the prejudices against it are more extensive than is generally imagined. How should it be otherwise? When no stone has been left unturned that could impress on the minds of the people the most arrant misrepresentation of facts: that their rights have not only been neglected, but absolutely sold; that there are no reciprocal advantages in the treaty: that the benefits are all on the side of Great Britain: and, what seems to have had more weight with them than all the rest, and has been most pressed, that the treaty is made with the design to oppress the French republic, in open violation of our treaty with that nation, and contrary too to every principal of gratitude and sound policy. In time, when passion shall have yielded to sober reason, the current may possibly turn; but, in the mean while, this government, in relation to France and England, may be compared to a ship between Scylla and Charybdis. If the treaty is ratified, the partisans of the French (or rather of war and confusion) will excite them to hostile measures, or at least to unfriendly sentiments;—if it is not, there is no foreseeing all the consequences that may follow as it respects Great Britain.
"It is not to be inferred from hence that I am or shall be disposed to quit the ground I have taken, unless circumstances more imperious than have yet come to my knowledge, should compel it; for there is but one straight course, and that is to seek truth, and to pursue it steadily. But these things are mentioned to show that a close investigation of the subject is more than ever necessary; and that there are strong evidences of the necessity of the most circumspect conduct in carrying the determination of government into effect, with prudence as it respects our own people, and with every exertion to produce a change for the better with Great Britain."
In a letter of the third of August, written to the same gentleman, in which he stated the increasing extent of hostility to the treaty, the President added:
"All these things do not shake my determination with respect to the proposed ratification, nor will they, unless something more imperious and unknown to me, should, in the opinion of yourself and the gentlemen with you, make it adviseable for me to pause."
[Sidenote: Conditionally ratified by the president.]
In the afternoon of the 11th of August the President arrived in Philadelphia; and on the next day, the question respecting the immediate ratification of the treaty was brought before the cabinet. The secretary of state maintained, singly, the opinion, that, during the existence of the provision order, and during the war between Britain and France, this step ought not to be taken. This opinion did not prevail. The resolution was adopted to ratify the treaty immediately, and to accompany the ratification with a strong memorial against the provision order, which should convey, in explicit terms, the sense of the American government on that subject. By this course, the views of the executive were happily accomplished. The order was revoked, and the ratifications of the treaty were exchanged.
[Footnote 35: Previous to the reception of the account of this order, the opinion of the secretary had been in favour of ratifying the treaty.]
[Sidenote: The treaty unpopular in the United States.]
The President was most probably determined to adopt this course by the extreme intemperance with which the treaty was opposed, and the rapid progress which this violence was apparently making. It was obvious that, unless this temper could be checked, it would soon become so extensive, and would arrive at such a point of fury, as to threaten dangerous consequences. It was obviously necessary either to attempt a diminution of its action by rendering its exertions hopeless, and by giving to the treaty the weight of his character and influence, or to determine ultimately to yield to it. A species of necessity therefore seems to have been created for abandoning the idea, if it was ever taken up, of making the ratification of the treaty dependent on the revocation of the provision order.
The soundness of the policy which urged this decisive measure was proved by the event. The confidence which was felt in the judgment and virtue of the chief magistrate, induced many, who, swept away by the popular current, had yielded to the common prejudices, to re-examine, and discard opinions which had been too hastily embraced; and many were called forth by a desire to support the administration in measures actually adopted, to take a more active part in the general contest than they would otherwise have pursued. The consequence was, that more moderate opinions respecting the treaty began to prevail.
In a letter from Mount Vernon of the 20th of September, addressed to General Knox, who had communicated to him the change of opinion which was appearing in the eastern states, the President expressed in warm terms the pleasure derived from that circumstance, and added: "Next to a conscientious discharge of my public duties, to carry along with me the approbation of my constituents, would be the highest gratification of which my mind is susceptible. But the latter being secondary, I can not make the former yield to it, unless some criterion more infallible than partial (if they are not party) meetings can be discovered as the touchstone of public sentiment. If any person on earth could, or the great power above would, erect the standard of infallibility in political opinions, no being that inhabits this terrestrial globe would resort to it with more eagerness than myself, so long as I remain a servant of the public. But as I have hitherto found no better guide than upright intentions, and close investigation, I shall adhere to them while I keep the watch, leaving it to those who will come after me, to explore new ways, if they like, or think them better."
[Sidenote: Charge against the president rejected.]
If the ratification of the treaty increased the number of its open advocates, it seemed also to give increased acrimony to the opposition. Such hold had the President taken of the affections of the people, that even his enemies had deemed it generally necessary to preserve, with regard to him, external marks of decency and respect. Previous to the mission of Mr. Jay, charges against the chief magistrate, though frequently insinuated, had seldom been directly made; and the cover under which the attacks upon his character were conducted, evidenced the caution with which it was deemed necessary to proceed. That mission visibly affected the decorum which had been usually observed towards him; and the ratification of the treaty brought sensations into open view, which had long been ill concealed. His military and political character was attacked with equal violence, and it was averred that he was totally destitute of merit, either as a soldier, or a statesman. The calumnies with which he was assailed were not confined to his public conduct; even his qualities as a man were the subjects of detraction. That he had violated the constitution in negotiating a treaty without the previous advice of the senate, and in embracing within that treaty subjects belonging exclusively to the legislature, was openly maintained, for which an impeachment was publicly suggested; and that he had drawn from the treasury for his private use, more than the salary annexed to his office, was asserted without a blush. This last allegation was said to be supported by extracts from the treasury accounts which had been laid before the legislature, and was maintained with the most persevering effrontery.
[Footnote 36: See the Aurora from August to December, 1795. See, in particular, a series of essays, signed "A Calm Observer," published from the 23d of October to the 5th of November, 1795.]
Though the secretary of the treasury denied that the appropriations made by the legislature had ever been exceeded, the atrocious charge was still confidently repeated; and the few who could triumph in any spot which might tarnish the lustre of Washington's fame, felicitated themselves on the prospect of obtaining a victory over the reputation of a patriot, to whose single influence, they ascribed the failure of their political plans. With the real public, the confidence felt in the integrity of the chief magistrate remained unshaken; but so imposing was the appearance of the documents adduced, as to excite an apprehension that the transaction might be placed in a light to show that some indiscretion, in which he had not participated, had been inadvertently committed.
This state of anxious suspense was of short duration. The late secretary of the treasury, during whose administration of the finances this peculation was said to have taken place, came forward with a full explanation of the fact. It appeared that the President himself had never touched any part of the compensation annexed to his office, but that the whole was received, and disbursed, by the gentleman who superintended the expenses of his household. That it was the practice of the treasury, when a sum had been appropriated for the current year, to pay it to that gentleman occasionally, as the situation of the family might require. The expenses at some periods of the year exceeded, and at others fell short of the allowance for the quarter; so that at some times money was paid in advance on account of the ensuing quarter, and at others, that which was due at the end of the quarter was not completely drawn out. The secretary entered into an examination of the constitution and laws to show that this practice was justifiable, and illustrated his arguments by many examples in which an advance on account of money appropriated to a particular object, before the service was completed, would be absolutely necessary. However this might be, it was a transaction in which the President personally was unconcerned.
[Footnote 37: Gazette of the United States, 16th November, 1795.]
When possessed of the entire fact, the public viewed, with just indignation, this attempt to defame a character which was the nation's pride. Americans felt themselves involved in this atrocious calumny on their most illustrious citizen; and its propagators were frowned into silence.
[Sidenote: Mr. Randolph resigns. Is succeeded by Colonel Pickering.]
[Sidenote: Colonel McHenry appointed secretary of war.]
On the 19th of August, the secretary of state had resigned his place in the administration, and some time elapsed before a successor was appointed. At length, Colonel Pickering was removed to the department of state, and Mr. M'Henry, a gentleman who had served in the family of General Washington, and in the congress prior to the establishment of the existing constitution, was appointed to the department of war. By the death of Mr. Bradford, a vacancy was also produced in the office of attorney general, which was filled by Mr. Lee, a gentleman of considerable eminence at the bar, and in the legislature of Virginia.
[Footnote 38: See note No. XII. at the end of the volume.]
[Footnote 39: See note No. XIII. at the end of the volume.]
Many of those embarrassments in which the government, from its institution, had been involved, were now ended, or approaching their termination.
The opposition to the laws, which had so long been made in the western counties of Pennsylvania, existed no longer.
[Sidenote: Treaty with the Indians north-west of the Ohio.]
On the third of August, a definitive treaty was concluded by General Wayne with the hostile Indians north-west of the Ohio, by which the destructive and expensive war which had long desolated that frontier, was ended in a manner perfectly agreeable to the United States. An accommodation had taken place with the powerful tribes of the south also; and to preserve peace in that quarter, it was only necessary to invest the executive with the means of restraining the incursions which the disorderly inhabitants of the southern frontier frequently made into the Indian territory; incursions, of which murder was often the consequence.
Few subjects had excited more feeling among the people, or in the government of the United States, than the captivity of their fellow citizens in Algiers. Even this calamity had been seized as a weapon which might be wielded with some effect against the President. Overlooking the exertions he had made for the attainment of peace, and the liberation of the American captives; and regardless of his inability to aid negotiation by the exhibition of force, the discontented ascribed the long and painful imprisonment of their unfortunate brethren to a carelessness in the administration respecting their sufferings, and to that inexhaustible source of accusation,—its policy with regard to France and Britain.
[Sidenote: Treaty with Algiers.]
After the failure of several attempts to obtain a peace with the regency of Algiers, a treaty was, at length, negotiated on terms which, though disadvantageous, were the best that could be obtained.
The exertions of the executive to settle the controversy with Spain respecting boundary, and to obtain the free use of the Mississippi, had been unavailing. A negotiation in which Mr. Short and Mr. Carmichael were employed at Madrid, had been protracted by artificial delays on the part of the Spanish cabinet, until those ministers had themselves requested that the commission should be terminated.
[Sidenote: Treaty with Spain.]
At length, Spain, embarrassed by the war in which she was engaged, discovered symptoms of a temper more inclined to conciliation, and intimated to the secretary of state, through her commissioners at Philadelphia, that a minister, deputed on the special occasion, of higher rank than Mr. Short, who was a resident, would be able to expedite the negotiation. On receiving this intimation, the President, though retaining a high and just confidence in Mr. Short, nominated Mr. Pinckney, in November, 1794, as envoy extraordinary to his Catholic Majesty. Mr. Pinckney repaired in the following summer to Madrid, and a treaty was concluded on the 20th of October, in which the claims of the United States, on the important points of boundary, and the Mississippi, were fully conceded.
Thus were adjusted, so far as depended on the executive, all those external difficulties with which the United States had long struggled; most of which had originated before the establishment of the existing government, and some of which portended calamities that no common share of prudence could have averted.
[Sidenote: Meeting of Congress.]
Although the signature of the treaties with Spain and Algiers had not been officially announced at the meeting of congress, the state of the negotiations with both powers was sufficiently well understood to enable the President with confidence to assure the legislature, in his speech at the opening of the session, that those negotiations were in a train which promised a happy issue.
[Sidenote: President's speech.]
After expressing his gratification at the prosperous state of American affairs, the various favourable events which have been already enumerated were detailed in a succinct statement, at the close of which he mentioned the British treaty, which, though publicly known, had not before been communicated officially to the house of representatives.
"This interesting summary of our affairs," continued the speech, "with regard to the powers between whom and the United States controversies have subsisted; and with regard also to our Indian neighbours with whom we have been in a state of enmity or misunderstanding, opens a wide field for consoling and gratifying reflections. If by prudence and moderation on every side, the extinguishment of all the causes of external discord which have heretofore menaced our tranquillity, on terms compatible with our national faith and honour, shall be the happy results,—how firm and how precious a foundation will have been laid for accelerating, maturing, and establishing the prosperity of our country."
After presenting an animated picture of the situation of the United States, and recommending several objects to the attention of the legislature, the President concluded with observing: "Temperate discussion of the important subjects that may arise in the course of the session, and mutual forbearance where there is a difference in opinion, are too obvious and necessary for the peace, happiness, and welfare of our country, to need any recommendation of mine."
In the senate, an address was reported which echoed back the sentiments of the speech.
In this house of representatives, as in the last, the party in opposition to the administration had obtained a majority. This party was unanimously hostile to the treaty with Great Britain; and it was expected that their answer to the speech of the President would indicate their sentiments on a subject which continued to agitate the whole American people. The answer reported by the committee contained a declaration, that the confidence of his fellow citizens in the chief magistrate remained undiminished.
On a motion, to strike out the words importing this sentiment, it was averred, that the clause asserted an untruth. It was not true that the confidence of the people in the President was undiminished. By a recent transaction it had been considerably impaired; and some gentlemen declared that their own confidence in him was lessened.
By the friends of the administration, the motion was opposed with great zeal, and the opinion that the confidence of the people in their chief magistrate remained unshaken, was maintained with ardour. But they were outnumbered.
To avoid a direct vote on the proposition, it was moved, that the address should be recommitted. This motion succeeded, and, two members being added to the committee, an answer was reported in which the clause objected to was so modified as to be free from exception.
That part of the speech which mentioned the treaty with Great Britain was alluded to in terms which, though not directly expressive of disapprobation, were sufficiently indicative of the prevailing sentiment.
Early in the month of January the President transmitted to both houses of congress a message, accompanying certain communications from the French government which were well calculated to cherish those ardent feelings that prevailed in the legislature.
It was the fortune of Mr. Monroe to reach Paris, soon after the death of Robespierre, and the fall of the Jacobins. On his reception as the minister of the United States, which was public, and in the convention, he gave free scope to the genuine feelings of his heart; and, at the same time, delivered to the President of that body, with his credentials, two letters addressed by the secretary of state to the committee of public safety. These letters were answers to one written by the committee of safety to the congress of the United States. The executive department being the organ through which all foreign intercourse was to be conducted, each branch of the legislature had passed a resolution directing this letter to be transmitted to the President, with a request, that he would cause it to be answered in terms expressive of their friendly dispositions towards the French republic.
So fervent were the sentiments expressed on this occasion, that the convention decreed that the flag of the American and French republics should be united together, and suspended in its own hall, in testimony of eternal union and friendship between the two people. To evince the impression made on his mind by this act, and the grateful sense of his constituents, Mr. Monroe presented to the convention the flag of the United States, which he prayed them to accept as a proof of the sensibility with which his country received every act of friendship from its ally, and of the pleasure with which it cherished every incident which tended to cement and consolidate the union between the two nations.
[Sidenote: Mr. Adet succeeds Mr. Fauchet.]
The committee of safety, disregarding the provisions of the American constitution, although their attention must have been particularly directed to them by the circumstance that the letter to congress was referred by that body to the executive, again addressed the legislature in terms adapted to that department of government which superintends its foreign intercourse, and expressive, among other sentiments, of the sensibility with which the French nation had perceived those sympathetic emotions with which the American people had viewed the vicissitudes of her fortune. Mr. Adet, who was to succeed Mr. Fauchet at Philadelphia, and who was the bearer of this letter, also brought with him the colours of France, which he was directed to present to the United States. He arrived in the summer; but probably in the idea that these communications were to be made by him directly to congress, did not announce them to the executive until late in December.
The first day of the new year was named for their reception; when the colours were delivered to the President, and the letter to congress also was placed in his hands.
In executing this duty, Mr. Adet addressed a speech to the President, which, in the glowing language of his country, represented France as struggling, not only for her own liberty, but for that of the human race. "Assimilated to, or rather identified with free people by the form of her government, she saw in them," he said, "only friends and brothers. Long accustomed to regard the American people as her most faithful allies, she sought to draw closer the ties already formed in the fields of America, under the auspices of victory, over the ruins of tyranny."
To answer this speech was a task of some delicacy. It was necessary to express feelings adapted to the occasion, without implying sentiments with respect to the belligerent powers, which might be improper to be used by the chief magistrate of a neutral country. With a view to both these objects, the President made the following reply:
"Born, sir, in a land of liberty; having early learned its value; having engaged in a perilous conflict to defend it; having, in a word, devoted the best years of my life to secure its permanent establishment in my own country; my anxious recollections, my sympathetic feelings, and my best wishes, are irresistibly attracted, whensoever, in any country, I see an oppressed nation unfurl the banners of freedom. But above all, the events of the French revolution have produced the deepest solicitude, as well as the highest admiration. To call your nation brave, were to pronounce but common praise. Wonderful people! Ages to come will read with astonishment the history of your brilliant exploits. I rejoice that the period of your toils, and of your immense sacrifices is approaching. I rejoice that the interesting revolutionary movements of so many years have issued in the formation of a constitution, designed to give permanency to the great object for which you have contended. I rejoice that liberty, which you have so long embraced with enthusiasm,—liberty, of which you have been the invincible defenders, now finds an asylum in the bosom of a regularly organized government;—a government which, being formed to secure the happiness of the French people, corresponds with the ardent wishes of my heart, while it gratifies the pride of every citizen of the United States by its resemblance to their own. On these glorious events, accept, sir, my sincere congratulations.
[Footnote 40: Subsequent to the mission of Mr. Adet, but previous to this time, the revolutionary government which succeeded the abolition of monarchy had yielded to the constitution of the republican form.]
"In delivering to you these sentiments, I express not my own feelings only, but those of my fellow citizens in relation to the commencement, the progress, and the issue of the French revolution: and they will certainly join with me in purest wishes to the Supreme Being, that the citizens of our sister republic, our magnanimous allies, may soon enjoy in peace, that liberty which they have purchased at so great a price, and all the happiness that liberty can bestow.
"I receive, sir, with lively sensibility, the symbol of the triumphs, and of the infranchisements of your nation, the colours of France, which you have now presented to the United States. The transaction will be announced to congress, and the colours will be deposited with the archives of the United States, which are at once the evidence and the memorials of their freedom and independence; may these be perpetual! and may the friendship of the two republics be commensurate with their existence."
The address of Mr. Adet, the answer of the President, and the colours of France, were transmitted to congress with the letter from the committee of safety.
In the house of representatives a resolution was moved, requesting the President to make known to the representatives of the French republic, the sincere and lively sensations which were excited by this honourable testimony of the existing sympathy and affections of the two republics; that the house rejoiced in an opportunity of congratulating the French republic on the brilliant and glorious achievements accomplished during the present afflictive war; and hoped that those achievements would be attended with a perfect attainment of their object, the permanent establishment of the liberty and happiness of that great and magnanimous people.
The letter to congress having come from the committee of safety, which, under the revolutionary system, was the department that was charged with foreign intercourse; and a constitution having been afterwards adopted in France, by which an executive directory was established, to which all the foreign relations of the government were confided, an attempt was made to amend this resolution, by substituting the directory for the representatives of the people. But this attempt failed; after which the resolution passed unanimously.
In the senate also a resolution was offered, expressive of the sensations of that house, and requesting the President to communicate them to the proper organ of the French republic. An amendment was moved to vary this resolution so as to express the sentiment to the President, and omit the request that it should be communicated to the French republic. The complimentary correspondence between the two nations, had, it was said, reached a point, when, if ever, it ought to close. This amendment, though strenuously combated by the opposition, was adopted.
In February, the treaty with Great Britain was returned, in the form advised by the senate, ratified by his Britannic Majesty. The constitution declaring a treaty, when made, the supreme law of the land, the President announced it officially to the people in a proclamation, requiring from all persons its observance and execution; a copy of which was transmitted to each house on the 1st of March.
The party which had obtained the majority in one branch of the legislature, having openly denied the right of the President to negotiate a treaty of commerce, was not a little dissatisfied at his venturing to issue this proclamation before the sense of the house of representatives had been declared on the obligation of the instrument.
[Sidenote: The house of representatives call upon the president for papers relating to the treaty with Great Britain.]
This dissatisfaction was not concealed. On the 2d of March, Mr. Livingston laid upon the table a resolution, requesting the President "to lay before the house a copy of the instructions to the minister of the United States, who negotiated the treaty with the king of Great Britain, communicated by his message of the 1st of March, together with the correspondence and other documents relative to the said treaty."
On the 7th of March, he amended this resolution by adding the words, "excepting such of the said papers as any existing negotiation may render improper to be disclosed."
After some debate, Mr. Madison proposed to modify the amendment of Mr. Livingston, so as to except such papers, as in the judgment of the President, it might be inconsistent with the interest of the United States at this time to disclose. This proposition was rejected by a majority of ten voices, and the discussion of the original resolution was resumed. The debate soon glided into an argument on the nature and extent of the treaty making power.
The friends of the administration maintained, that a treaty was a contract between two nations, which, under the constitution, the President, by and with the advice and consent of the senate, had a right to make; and that it was made when, by and with such advice and consent, it had received his final act. Its obligations then became complete on the United States; and to refuse to comply with its stipulations, was to break the treaty, and to violate the faith of the nation.
The opposition contended, that the power to make treaties, if applicable to every object, conflicted with powers which were vested exclusively in congress. That either the treaty making power must be limited in its operation, so as not to touch objects committed by the constitution to congress, or the assent and co-operation of the house of representatives must be required to give validity to any compact, so far as it might comprehend those objects. A treaty, therefore, which required an appropriation of money, or any act of congress to carry it into effect, had not acquired its obligatory force until the house of representatives had exercised its powers in the case. They were at full liberty to make, or to withhold, such appropriation, or other law, without incurring the imputation of violating any existing obligation, or of breaking the faith of the nation.