The debate on this question was animated, vehement, and argumentative; all the party passions were enlisted in it; and it was protracted until the 24th of March, when the resolution was carried in the affirmative by sixty-two to thirty-seven voices. The next day, the committee appointed to present it to the chief magistrate reported his answer, which was, "that he would take the resolution into consideration."
The situation in which this vote placed the President was peculiarly delicate. In an elective government, the difficulty of resisting the popular branch of the legislature is at all times great, but is particularly so when the passions of the public have been strongly and generally excited. The popularity of a demand for information, the large majority by which that demand was supported, the additional force which a refusal to comply with it would give to suspicions already insinuated, that circumstances had occurred in the negotiation which the administration dared not expose, and that the President was separating himself from the representatives of the people, furnished motives, not lightly to be over-ruled, for yielding to the request which had been made.
[Illustration: George Washington
From the profile portrait by James Sharples
Sharples painted two pictures of Washington—this portrait showing him in the costume of a country gentleman, distinguished as being the only profile of the First President ever painted, and a full face presentation of him in military dress, reproduced in Volume IV of this work.
Sharples, an English painter by birth, was recommended by the great George Romney as being equipped to produce a work "worthy of the greatest of Americans." His success is attested by the praise of Washington's adopted son, who declared the Sharples portraits to be "the truest likenesses ever made," and by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who saw the pictures later in England and wrote: "I would willingly have crossed the Atlantic, if only to look on these portraits."
Courtesy Herbert L. Pratt]
But these considerations were opposed by others which, though less operative with men who fear to deserve the public favour by hazarding its loss, possess an irresistible influence over a mind resolved to pursue steadily the path of duty, however it may abound with thorns.
That the future diplomatic transactions of the government might be seriously and permanently affected by establishing the principle that the house of representatives could demand as a right, the instructions given to a foreign minister, and all the papers connected with a negotiation, was too apparent to be unobserved. Nor was it less obvious that a compliance with the request now made, would go far in establishing this principle. The form of the request, and the motives which induced it, equally led to this conclusion. It left nothing to the discretion of the President with regard to the public interests; and the information was asked for the avowed purpose of determining whether the house of representatives would give effect to a public treaty.
It was also a subject for serious reflection, that in a debate unusually elaborate, the house of representatives had claimed a right of interference in the formation of treaties, which, in the judgment of the President, the constitution had denied them. Duties the most sacred requiring that he should resist this encroachment on the department which was particularly confided to him, he could not hesitate respecting the course it became him to take; and on the 30th of March he returned the following answer to the resolution which had been presented to him.
"Gentlemen of the house of representatives,
"With the utmost attention I have considered your resolution of the 24th instant, requesting me to lay before your house, a copy of the instructions to the minister of the United States, who negotiated the treaty with the king of Great Britain, together with the correspondence and other documents relative to that treaty, excepting such of the said papers, as any existing negotiation may render improper to be disclosed.
"In deliberating upon this subject, it was impossible for me to lose sight of the principle which some have avowed in its discussion, or to avoid extending my views to the consequences which must flow from the admission of that principle.
"I trust that no part of my conduct has ever indicated a disposition to withhold any information which the constitution has enjoined it upon the President as a duty to give, or which could be required of him by either house of congress as a right; and with truth I affirm, that it has been, as it will continue to be, while I have the honour to preside in the government, my constant endeavour to harmonize with the other branches thereof, so far as the trust delegated to me by the people of the United States, and my sense of the obligation it imposes, to preserve, protect and defend the constitution will permit.
[Footnote 41: The words of the oath of office prescribed for the chief magistrate.]
"The nature of foreign negotiations require caution, and their success must often depend on secrecy: and even when brought to a conclusion, a full disclosure of all the measures, demands, or eventual concessions which may have been proposed or contemplated would be extremely impolitic; for this might have a pernicious influence on future negotiations, or produce immediate inconveniences, perhaps danger and mischief to other persons. The necessity of such caution and secrecy was one cogent reason for vesting the power of making treaties in the President, with the advice and consent of the senate, the principle on which that body was formed confining it to a small number of members.
"To admit then a right in the house of representatives to demand, and to have as a matter of course, all the papers respecting a negotiation with a foreign power, would be to establish a dangerous precedent.
"It does not occur that the inspection of the papers asked for, can be relative to any purpose under the cognizance of the house of representatives, except that of an impeachment, which the resolution has not expressed. I repeat that I have no disposition to withhold any information which the duty of my station will permit, or the public good shall require to be disclosed; and in fact, all the papers affecting the negotiation with Great Britain were laid before the senate, when the treaty itself was communicated for their consideration and advice.
"The course which the debate has taken on the resolution of the house, leads to some observations on the mode of making treaties under the constitution of the United States.
"Having been a member of the general convention, and knowing the principles on which the constitution was formed, I have ever entertained but one opinion upon this subject; and from the first establishment of the government to this moment, my conduct has exemplified that opinion. That the power of making treaties is exclusively vested in the President, by and with the advice and consent of the senate, provided two-thirds of the senators present concur; and that every treaty so made and promulgated, thenceforward becomes the law of the land. It is thus that the treaty making power has been understood by foreign nations: and in all the treaties made with them, we have declared, and they have believed, that when ratified by the President with the advice and consent of the senate, they became obligatory. In this construction of the constitution, every house of representatives has heretofore acquiesced; and until the present time, not a doubt or suspicion has appeared to my knowledge, that this construction was not a true one. Nay, they have more than acquiesced; for until now, without controverting the obligation of such treaties, they have made all the requisite provisions for carrying them into effect.
"There is also reason to believe that this construction agrees with the opinions entertained by the state conventions when they were deliberating on the constitution; especially by those who objected to it, because there was not required in commercial treaties, the consent of two-thirds of the whole number of the members of the senate, instead of two-thirds of the senators present; and because in treaties respecting territorial and certain other rights and claims, the concurrence of three-fourths of the whole number of the members of both houses respectively was not made necessary.
"It is a fact declared by the general convention and universally understood, that the constitution of the United States was the result of a spirit of amity and mutual concession. And it is well known, that under this influence, the smaller states were admitted to an equal representation in the senate with the larger states; and that this branch of the government was invested with great powers; for on the equal participation of those powers, the sovereignty and political safety of the smaller states were deemed essentially to depend.
"If other proofs than these and the plain letter of the constitution itself be necessary to ascertain the point under consideration, they may be found in the journals of the general convention which I have deposited in the office of the department of state. In these journals it will appear, that a proposition was made 'that no treaty should be binding on the United States which was not ratified by a law,' and that the proposition was explicitly rejected.
[Sidenote: He declines sending them.]
"As therefore it is perfectly clear to my understanding that the assent of the house of representatives is not necessary to the validity of a treaty; as the treaty with Great Britain exhibits in itself all the objects requiring legislative provision; and on these the papers called for can throw no light; and as it is essential to the due administration of the government that the boundaries fixed by the constitution between the different departments should be preserved; a just regard to the constitution, and to the duty of my office, under all the circumstances of this case, forbid a compliance with your request."
The terms in which this decided, and, it would seem, unexpected negative to the call for papers was conveyed, appeared to break the last cord of that attachment which had theretofore bound some of the active leaders of the opposition to the person of the President. Amidst all the agitations and irritations of party, a sincere respect, and real affection for the chief magistrate, the remnant of former friendship, had still lingered in the bosoms of some who had engaged with ardour in the political contests of the day. But, if the last spark of this affection was not now extinguished, it was at least concealed under the more active passions of the moment.
[Sidenote: Debates upon the treaty making power.]
A motion to refer the message of the President to a committee of the whole house, was carried by a large majority. In committee, resolutions were moved by Mr. Blount of North Carolina, declaratory of the sense of the house respecting its own power on the subject of treaties. These resolutions take a position less untenable than had been maintained in argument, and rather inexplicit on an essential part of the question. Disclaiming a power to interfere in making treaties, they assert the right of the house of representatives, whenever stipulations are made on subjects committed by the constitution to congress, to deliberate on the expediency of carrying them into effect, without deciding what degree of obligation the treaty possesses on the nation, so far as respects those points, previous to such deliberation. After a debate in which the message was freely criticised, the resolutions were carried, fifty-seven voting in the affirmative, and thirty-five in the negative.
In the course of the month of March, the treaties with his Catholic majesty, and with the Dey of Algiers, had been ratified by the President, and were laid before congress. On the 13th of April, in a committee of the whole house on the state of the union, the instant the chairman was seated, Mr. Sedgewick moved "that provision ought to be made by law for carrying into effect with good faith the treaties lately concluded with the Dey and Regency of Algiers, the King of Great Britain, the King of Spain, and certain Indian tribes north-west of the Ohio."
This motion produced a warm altercation. The members of the majority complained loudly of the celerity with which it had been made, and resented the attempt to blend together four treaties in the same resolution, after the solemn vote entered upon their journals, declaratory of their right to exercise a free discretion over the subject, as an indignity to the opinions and feelings of the house.
After a discussion manifesting the irritation which existed, the resolution was amended, by changing the word "treaties" from the plural to the singular number, and by striking out the words "Dey and Regency of Algiers, the King of Great Britain, and certain Indian tribes north-west of the river Ohio," so that only the treaty with the King of Spain remained to be considered.
Mr. Gallatin then objected to the words "provision ought to be made by law," as the expression seemed to imply a negative of the principle laid down in their resolution, that the house was at perfect liberty to pass, or not to pass, any law for giving effect to a treaty. In lieu of them, he wished to introduce words declaring the expediency of passing the necessary laws. This amendment was objected to as an innovation on the forms which had been invariably observed; but it was carried; after which, the words "with good faith," were also discarded.
The resolution thus amended was agreed to without a dissenting voice; and then, similar resolutions were passed respecting the treaties with Algiers, and with the Indians north-west of the Ohio.
[Sidenote: Upon the bill for making appropriations to carry into execution the treaty with Great Britain.]
This business being despatched, the treaty with Great Britain was brought before the house. The friends of that instrument urged an immediate decision of the question. On a subject which had so long agitated the whole community, the judgment of every member, they believed, was completely formed; and the hope to make converts by argument was desperate. In fact, they appeared to have entertained the opinion that the majority would not dare to encounter the immense responsibility of breaking that treaty, without previously ascertaining that the great body of the people were willing to meet the consequences of the measure. But the members of the opposition, though confident of their power to reject the resolution, called for its discussion. The expectation might not unreasonably have been entertained, that the passions belonging to the subject would be so inflamed by debate, as to produce the expression of a public sentiment favourable to their wishes; and, if in this they should be disappointed, it would be certainly unwise, either as a party, or as a branch of the legislature, to plunge the nation into embarrassments in which it was not disposed to entangle itself, and from which the means of extricating it could not be distinctly perceived.
The minority soon desisted from urging an immediate decision of the question; and the spacious field which was opened by the propositions before the house, seemed to be entered with equal avidity and confidence by both parties.
At no time perhaps have the members of the national legislature been stimulated to great exertions by stronger feelings than impelled them on this occasion. Never has a greater display been made of argument, of eloquence, and of passion; and never has a subject been discussed in which all classes of their fellow citizens took a deeper interest.
To those motives which a doubtful contest for power, and for victory, can not fail to furnish, were added others of vast influence on the human mind. Those who supported the resolution, declaring the expediency of carrying the treaty into effect, firmly believed that the faith of the nation was pledged, and that its honour, its character, and its constitution, depended on the vote about to be given. They also believed that the best interests of the United States required an observance of the compact as formed. In itself, it was thought as favourable as the situation of the contracting parties, and of the world, entitled them to expect; but its chief merit consisted in the adjustment of ancient differences, and in its tendency to produce future amicable dispositions, and friendly intercourse. If congress should refuse to perform this treaty on the part of the United States, a compliance on the part of Great Britain could not be expected. The posts on the great lakes would still be occupied by their garrisons; no compensation would be made for American vessels illegally captured; the hostile dispositions which had been excited would be restored with increased aggravation; and that these dispositions must lead infallibly to war, was implicitly believed. They also believed that the political subjugation of their country would be the inevitable consequence of a war with Britain, during the existing impassioned devotion of the United States to France.
The opposite party was undoubtedly of opinion that the treaty contained stipulations really injurious to the United States. Several favourite principles to which they attached much importance, were relinquished by it; and some of the articles relative to commerce, were believed to be unequal in their operation. Nor ought the sincerity with which their opinion on the constitutional powers of the house had been advanced, to be questioned. In the fervour of political discussion, that construction which, without incurring the imputation of violating the national faith, would enable the popular branch of the legislature to control the President and senate in making treaties, may have been thought the safe and the correct construction. But no consideration appears to have had more influence than the apprehension that the amicable arrangements made with Great Britain, would seriously affect the future relations of the United States with France.
Might a conjecture on this subject be hazarded, it would be that, in the opinion of many intelligent men, the preservation of that honest and real neutrality between the belligerent powers, at which the executive had aimed, was impracticable; that America would probably be forced into the war; and that the possibility of a rupture with France was a calamity too tremendous not to be avoided at every hazard.
As had been foreseen, this animated debate was on a subject too deeply and immediately interesting to the people, not to draw forth their real sentiments. The whole country was agitated; meetings were again held throughout the United States; and the strength of parties was once more tried.
The fallacy of many of the objections to the treaty had been exposed, the odium originally excited against it had been diminished, the belief that its violation would infallibly precipitate the nation into a war, if not universal, was extensive. These considerations brought reflecting men into action; and the voice of the nation was pronounced unequivocally with the minority in the house of representatives.
This manifestation of the public sentiment was decisive with congress. On the 29th of April the question was taken in the committee of the whole, and was determined, by the casting vote of the chairman, in favour of the expediency of making the necessary laws. The resolution was finally carried, fifty-one voting in the affirmative, and forty-eight in the negative.
That necessity to which a part of the majority in the house of representatives had reluctantly yielded, operated on no other subject; nor did it affect the strength of parties. Their opinion respecting that system of policy which ought to be observed in their external relations, remained the same; and their partialities and prejudices for and against foreign nations, sustained no diminution.
With regard to internal affairs also, the same spirit was retained.
So excessive had been the jealousy entertained by the opposition against a military force of any kind, that, even under the pressure of the Algerine war, the bill providing a naval armament could not be carried through the house without the insertion of a section suspending all proceedings under the act, should that war be terminated. The event which was to arrest the executive in the prosecution of this work having occurred, not a single frigate could be completed, without further authority from the legislature. This circumstance was the more important, as a peace had not been concluded with Tunis, or Tripoli; and, of consequence, the Mediterranean could not yet be safely navigated by the vessels of the United States. The President called the attention of congress to this subject; and stated the loss which would accrue from the sudden interruption of the work, and dispersion of the workmen. A bill to enable him to complete three, instead of six frigates, was with difficulty carried through the house.
But, except the treaty with Great Britain, no subject was brought forward in which parties felt a deeper interest, than on those questions which related to the revenue.
Notwithstanding the increasing productiveness of the duties on external commerce, this resource had not yet become entirely adequate to the exigencies of the nation. To secure the complete execution of the system for gradually redeeming the public debt, without disregarding those casualties to which all nations are exposed, it was believed that some additional aids to the treasury would be required. Upon the nature of these aids, much contrariety of opinion prevailed. The friends of the administration were in favour of extending the system of indirect internal taxation: but, constituting the minority in one branch of the legislature, they could carry no proposition on which the opposition was united; and the party which had become the majority in the house of representatives, had been generally hostile to that mode of obtaining revenue. From an opinion that direct taxes were recommended by intrinsic advantages, or that the people would become more attentive to the charges against the administration, should their money be drawn from them by visible means, those who wished power to change hands, had generally manifested a disposition to oblige those who exercised it, to resort to a system of revenue, by which a great degree of sensibility will always be excited. The indirect taxes proposed in the committee of ways and means were strongly resisted; and only that which proposed an augmentation of the duty on carriages for pleasure was passed into a law.
[Sidenote: Congress adjourns.]
On the first day of June, this long and interesting session was terminated. No preceding legislature had been engaged in discussions by which their own passions, or those of their constituents were more strongly excited; nor on subjects more vitally important to the United States.
From this view of the angry contests of party, it may not be unacceptable to turn aside for a moment, and to look back to a transaction in which the movements of a feeling heart discover themselves, not the less visibly, for being engaged in a struggle with the stern duties of a public station.
[Sidenote: The president endeavors to procure the liberation of Lafayette.]
No one of those foreigners who, during the war of the revolution, had engaged in the service of the United States, had embraced their cause with so much enthusiasm, or had held so distinguished a place in the affections of General Washington, as the Marquis de Lafayette. The attachment of these illustrious personages to each other had been openly expressed, and had yielded neither to time, nor to the remarkable vicissitude of fortune with which the destinies of one of them had been chequered. For his friend, while guiding the course of a revolution which fixed the anxious attention of the world, or while a prisoner in Prussia, or in the dungeon of Olmutz, the President manifested the same esteem, and felt the same solicitude. The extreme jealousy, however, with which the persons who administered the government of France, as well as a large party in America, watched his deportment towards all those whom the ferocious despotism of the Jacobins had exiled from their country, imposed upon him the painful necessity of observing great circumspection in his official conduct, on this delicate subject. A formal interposition in favour of the virtuous and unfortunate victim of their furious passions, would have been unavailing. Without benefiting the person whom it would be designed to aid, it might produce serious political mischief. But the American ministers employed at foreign courts were instructed to seize every fair occasion to express, unofficially, the interest taken by the President in the fate of Lafayette; and to employ the most eligible means in their power to obtain his liberty, or to meliorate his situation. A confidential person had been sent to Berlin to solicit his discharge: but before this messenger had reached his destination, the King of Prussia had delivered over his illustrious prisoner to the Emperor of Germany. Mr. Pinckney had been instructed not only to indicate the wishes of the President to the Austrian minister at London, but to endeavour, unofficially, to obtain the powerful mediation of Britain; and had at one time flattered himself that the cabinet of St. James would take an interest in the case; but this hope was soon dissipated.
[Footnote 42: Mr. James Marshall.]
After being disappointed in obtaining the mediation of the British cabinet, the President addressed the following letter to the Emperor of Germany.
"It will readily occur to your majesty that occasions may sometimes exist, on which official considerations would constrain the chief of a nation to be silent and passive in relation even to objects which affect his sensibility and claim his interposition as a man. Finding myself precisely in this situation at present, I take the liberty of writing this private letter to your majesty, being persuaded that my motives will also be my apology for it.
"In common with the people of this country, I retain a strong and cordial sense of the services rendered to them by the Marquis de Lafayette; and my friendship for him has been constant and sincere. It is natural, therefore, that I should sympathize with him and his family in their misfortunes, and endeavour to mitigate the calamities they experience, among which his present confinement is not the least distressing.
"I forbear to enlarge on this delicate subject. Permit me only to submit to your majesty's consideration, whether his long imprisonment, and the confiscation of his estate, and the indigence and dispersion of his family, and the painful anxieties incident to all these circumstances, do not form an assemblage of sufferings which recommend him to the mediation of humanity? allow me, sir, on this occasion, to be its organ; and to entreat that he may be permitted to come to this country, on such conditions, and under such restrictions, as your majesty may think it expedient to prescribe.
"As it is a maxim with me not to ask what, under similar circumstances, I would not grant, your majesty will do me the justice to believe that this request appears to me to correspond with those great principles of magnanimity and wisdom, which form the basis of sound policy, and durable glory."
This letter was transmitted to Mr. Pinckney to be conveyed to the Emperor through his minister at London. How far it operated in mitigating immediately the rigour of Lafayette's confinement, or in obtaining his liberation, remains unascertained.
Letter from General Washington to Mr. Jefferson.... Hostile measures of France against the United States.... Mr. Monroe recalled and General Pinckney appointed to succeed him.... General Washington's valedictory address to the people of the United States.... The Minister of France endeavours to influence the approaching election.... The President's speech to Congress.... He denies the authenticity of certain spurious letters published in 1776.... John Adams elected President, and Thomas Jefferson Vice President.... General Washington retires to Mount Vernon.... Political situation of the United States at this period.... The French government refuses to receive General Pinckney as Minister.... Congress is convened.... President's speech.... Three envoys extraordinary deputed to France.... Their treatment.... Measures of hostility adopted by the American government against France.... General Washington appointed Commander-in-chief of the American army.... His death.... And character.
The confidential friends of the President had long known his fixed purpose to retire from office at the end of his second term, and the people generally suspected it. Those who dreaded a change of system, in changing the person, of the chief magistrate, manifested an earnest desire to avoid this hazard, by being permitted once more to offer to the public choice a person who, amidst all the fierce conflicts of party, still remained the object of public veneration. But his resolution was to be shaken only by the obvious approach of a perilous crisis, which, endangering the safety of the nation, would make it unworthy of his character, and incompatible with his principles, to retreat from its service. In the apprehension that the co-operation of external with internal causes might bring about such a crisis, he had yielded to the representations of those who urged him to leave himself master of his conduct, by withholding a public declaration of his intention, until the propriety of affording a reasonable time to fix on a successor should require its disclosure. "If," said Colonel Hamilton in a letter on this subject of the fifth of July, "a storm gathers, how can you retreat? this is a most serious question."
The suspense produced in the public opinion by this silence on the part of the chief magistrate, seemed to redouble the efforts of those who laboured to rob him of the affection of the people, and to attach odium to the political system which he had pursued. As passion alone is able successfully to contend with passion, they still sought, in the hate which America bore to Britain, and in her love to France, for the most powerful means with which to eradicate her love to Washington. Amongst the various artifices employed to effect this object, was the publication of those queries which had been propounded by the President to his cabinet council, previous to the arrival of Mr. Genet. This publication was intended to demonstrate the existence of a disposition in the chief magistrate unfriendly to the French republic, of "a Machiavellian policy, which nothing but the universal sentiment of enthusiastic affection displayed by the people of the United States, on the arrival of Mr. Genet, could have subdued." Some idea of the intemperance of the day may be formed from the conclusion of that number of a series of virulent essays, in which these queries were inserted, and from recollecting that it was addressed to a man who, more than any other, had given character as well as independence to his country; and whose life, devoted to her service, had exhibited one pure undeviating course of virtuous exertion to promote her interests.
It is in these words: "The foregoing queries were transmitted for consideration to the heads of departments, previously to a meeting to be held at the President's house. The text needs no commentary. It has stamped upon its front in characters brazen enough for idolatry to comprehend, perfidy and ingratitude. To doubt in such a case was dishonourable, to proclaim those doubts treachery. For the honour of the American character and of human nature, it is to be lamented that the records of the United States exhibit such a stupendous monument of degeneracy. It will almost require the authenticity of holy writ to persuade posterity that it is not a libel ingeniously contrived to injure the reputation of the saviour of his country."
As this state paper was perfectly confidential, and had been communicated only to the cabinet ministers, Mr. Jefferson thought proper to free himself from any possible suspicion of having given it publicity, by assuring the President that this breach of confidence must be ascribed to some other person.
[Sidenote: Letter from General Washington to Mr. Jefferson.]
In answer to this letter the President said—
"If I had entertained any suspicion before, that the queries which have been published in Bache's paper proceeded from you, the assurances you have given of the contrary would have removed them:—but the truth is, I harboured none. I am at no loss to conjecture from what source they flowed, through what channel they were conveyed, nor for what purpose they and similar publications appear.
"As you have mentioned the subject yourself, it would not be frank, candid, or friendly to conceal, that your conduct has been represented as derogating from that opinion I conceived you entertained of me; that to your particular friends and connexions you have described, and they have denounced me, as a person under a dangerous influence, and that, if I would listen more to some other opinions, all would be well. My answer invariably has been, that I had never discovered any thing in the conduct of Mr. Jefferson to raise suspicions in my mind of his sincerity; that if he would retrace my public conduct while he was in the administration, abundant proofs would occur to him, that truth and right decisions were the sole objects of my pursuit; that there were as many instances within his own knowledge of my having decided against as in favour of the person evidently alluded to; and moreover, that I was no believer in the infallibility of the politics or measures of any man living. In short, that I was no party man myself, and that the first wish of my heart was, if parties did exist, to reconcile them.
[Footnote 43: In the same letter Mr. Jefferson had stated his total abstraction from party questions.]
"To this I may add, and very truly, that until the last year or two, I had no conception that parties would, or even could go the lengths I have been witness to; nor did I believe, until lately, that it was within the bounds of probability—hardly within those of possibility—that while I was using my utmost exertions to establish a national character of our own, independent as far as our obligations and justice would permit, of every nation of the earth; and wished by steering a steady course to preserve this country from the horrors of a desolating war, I should be accused of being the enemy of one nation and subject to the influence of another; and to prove it, that every act of my administration would be tortured, and the grossest and most insidious misrepresentations of them be made, by giving one side only of a subject, and that too in such exaggerated and indecent terms as could scarcely be applied to a Nero—to a notorious defaulter—or even to a common pick-pocket.
"But enough of this—I have already gone further in the expression of my feelings than I intended."
Of the numerous misrepresentations and fabrications which, with unwearied industry, were pressed upon the public in order to withdraw the confidence of the nation from its chief, no one marked more strongly the depravity of that principle which justifies the means by the end, than the republication of certain forged letters, purporting to have been written by General Washington in the year 1776.
These letters had been originally published in the year 1777, and in them were interspersed, with domestic occurrences which might give them the semblance of verity, certain political sentiments favourable to Britain in the then existing contest.
But the original fabricator of these papers missed his aim. It was necessary to assign the manner in which the possession of them was acquired; and in executing this part of his task, circumstances were stated so notoriously untrue, that, at the time, the meditated imposition deceived no person.
In the indefatigable research for testimony which might countenance the charge that the executive was unfriendly to France, and under the influence of Britain, these letters were drawn from the oblivion into which they had sunk, it had been supposed forever, and were republished as genuine. The silence with which the President treated this as well as every other calumny, was construed into an acknowledgment of its truth; and the malignant commentators on this spurious text, would not admit the possibility of its being apocryphal.
Those who laboured incessantly to establish the favourite position that the executive was under other than French influence, reviewed every act of the administration connected with its foreign relations, and continued to censure every part of the system with extreme bitterness. Not only the treaty with Great Britain, but all those measures which had been enjoined by the duties of neutrality, were reprobated as justly offensive to France; and no opinion which had been advanced by Mr. Genet, in his construction of the treaties between the two nations, was too extravagant to be approved. The ardent patriot can not maintain the choicest rights of his country with more zeal than was manifested in supporting all the claims of the French republic upon the United States. These discussions were not confined to the public prints. In almost every assemblage of individuals, whether for social or other purposes, this favourite theme excluded all others; and the pretensions of France were supported and controverted with equal earnestness. The opposing parties, mutually exasperated by unceasing altercations, cherished reciprocal suspicions of each other, and each charged its adversary with being under a foreign influence. Those who favoured the measures adopted by America were accused as the enemies of liberty, the enemies of France, and the tools of Britain. In turn, they charged their opponents with disseminating principles subversive of all order in society; and with supporting a foreign government against their own.
[Footnote 44: See note No. XIV. at the end of the volume.]
Whatever might be the real opinion of the French government on the validity of its charges against the United States, those charges were too vehemently urged, and too powerfully espoused in America, to be abandoned at Paris. If at any time they were in part relinquished, they were soon resumed.
For a time, Mr. Fauchet forbore to press the points on which his predecessor had insisted; but his complaints of particular cases which grew out of the war, and out of the rules which had been established by the executive were unremitting. The respectful language in which these complaints were at first urged, soon yielded to the style of reproach; and in his correspondence with the secretary of state, towards its close, he adopted the sentiments, without absolutely discarding the manner of Mr. Genet.
Mr. Adet, the successor of Mr. Fauchet, arrived at Philadelphia, while the senate was deliberating on the treaty of amity with Great Britain.
In the observations he made on that instrument, when submitted to his consideration by order of the President, he complained particularly of the abandonment of the principle that free ships should make free goods; and urged the injustice, while French cruisers were restrained by treaty from taking English goods out of American bottoms, that English cruisers should be liberated from the same restraint. No demonstration could be more complete than was the fallacy of this complaint. But the American government discovered a willingness voluntarily to release France from the pressure of a situation in which she had elected to place herself.
[Sidenote: Hostile measures of France against the United States.]
In the anxiety which was felt by the President to come to full and immediate explanations on this treaty, the American minister at Paris had been furnished, even before its ratification, and still more fully afterwards, with ample materials for the justification of his government. But, misconceiving the views of the administration, he reserved these representations to answer complaints which were expected, and omitted to make them in the first instance, while the course to be pursued by the Directory was under deliberation. Meanwhile, his letters kept up the alarm which had been excited with regard to the dispositions of France; and intelligence from the West Indies served to confirm it. Through a private channel, the President received information that the special agents of the Directory in the islands were about to issue orders for the capture of all American vessels, laden in the whole or in part with provisions, and bound for any port within the dominions of the British crown.
[Footnote 45: See Monroe's View.]
[Sidenote: Mr. Monroe recalled and General Pinckney appointed to succeed him.]
Knowing well that the intentions of the executive towards the French republic had been at all times friendly, and entertaining a strong conviction that its conduct was liable to no just objection, the President had relied with confidence on early and candid communications, for the removal of any prejudices or misconceptions, which the passions of the moment might have occasioned. That the French government would be disappointed at the adjustment of those differences which had threatened to embroil the United States with Great Britain, could not be doubted; but as neither this adjustment, nor the arrangements connected with it, had furnished any real cause of complaint, he cherished the hope that it would produce no serious consequences, if the proper means of prevention should be applied in time. He was therefore dissatisfied with delays which he had not expected; and seems to have believed that they originated in a want of zeal to justify a measure, which neither the minister himself nor his political friends had ever approved. To insure an earnest and active representation of the true sentiments and views of the administration, the President was inclined to depute an envoy extraordinary for the particular purpose, who should be united with the actual minister; but an objection drawn from the constitution was suggested to this measure. During the recess of the senate, the President can only fill up vacancies; and the appointment of a minister when no vacancy existed, might be supposed to transcend his powers. From respect to this construction of the constitution, the resolution was taken to appoint a successor to Colonel Monroe. The choice of a person in all respects qualified for this mission was not without its difficulty. While a disposition friendly to the administration was a requisite not to be dispensed with, it was also desirable that the person employed should have given no umbrage to the French government. No individual who had performed a conspicuous part on the political theatre of America, fitted both branches of this description. All who had openly sustained with zeal and with talents, the measures of the American government, had been marked as the enemies of France, and were on this account to be avoided.
For this critical and important service, the President, after some deliberation, selected General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, of South Carolina, an elder brother of Mr. Thomas Pinckney, the late minister of the United States at London. No man in America was more perfectly free from exception than this gentleman. Having engaged with ardour in that war which gave independence to his country, he had, in its progress, sustained from the British army indignities to his person, and injuries to his fortune, which are not easily forgotten. In the early part of the French revolution, he had felt and expressed all the enthusiasm of his countrymen for the establishment of the republic; but, after the commencement of its contests with the United States, he stood aloof from both those political parties which had divided America. Restrained by the official situation of his brother during the negotiations which had been carried on with England, he had forborne to express any opinion respecting the treaty in which those negotiations terminated, and had consequently taken no part with those who approved, or with those who condemned that instrument. No man, therefore, who had not declared himself unfriendly to the principles he would be deputed to support, could be less objectionable to France.
[Footnote 46: At his own request, Mr. Pinckney had been recalled; and Mr. King, a gentleman whose talents have been universally acknowledged, and whose services will be long recollected with approbation, had succeeded him.]
To the President he was recommended by an intimate knowledge of his worth; by a confidence in the sincerity of his personal attachment to the chief magistrate; by a conviction that his exertions to effect the objects of his mission would be ardent and sincere; and that, whatever might be his partialities for France, he possessed a high and delicate sense of national as well as individual honour, was jealous for the reputation of his country, and tenacious of its rights.
In July, immediately after the appointment of General Pinckney, letters were received from Colonel Monroe communicating the official complaints against the American government which had been made to him in March by Mr. de La Croix, the minister of exterior relations, together with his answer to those complaints.
In this answer the American minister had effectually refuted the criminations of Mr. de La Croix; and the executive was satisfied with it. But the Directory had decided on their system, and it was not by reasoning, however conclusive, that this decision was to be changed.
As the time for electing the chief magistrate approached, the anxiety of the public respecting the person in office, seemed to increase. In states where the electors are chosen by the people, names of great political influence were offered for their approbation. The strong hold which Washington had taken of the affections of his countrymen was, on this occasion, fully evinced. In districts where the opposition to his administration was most powerful, where all his measures were most loudly condemned, where those who approved his system possessed least influence, the men who appeared to control public opinion on every other subject, found themselves unable to move it on this. Even the most popular among the leaders of the opposition were reduced to the necessity of surrendering their pretensions to a place in the electoral body, or of pledging themselves to bestow their suffrage on the actual President. The determination of his fellow citizens had been unequivocally manifested, and it was believed to be apparent that the election would again be unanimous, when he announced his resolution to withdraw from the honours and the toils of office.
Having long contemplated this event, and having wished to terminate his political course with an act which might be at the same time suitable to his own character, and permanently useful to his country, he had prepared for the occasion a valedictory address, in which, with the solicitude of a person, who, in bidding a final adieu to his friends, leaves his affections and his anxieties for their welfare behind him, he made a last effort to impress upon his countrymen those great political truths which had been the guides of his own administration, and could alone, in his opinion, form a sure and solid basis for the happiness, the independence, and the liberty of the United States.
This interesting paper was published in September, at a time when hopes were entertained that the discontents of France might be appeased by proper representations. It contains precepts to which the American statesman can not too frequently recur, and though long, is thought too valuable to be omitted or abridged.
[Sidenote: General Washington's valedictory address to the people of the United States in which he declines being considered as a candidate for the presidency.]
TO THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES.
"Friends and fellow citizens,
"The period for a new election of a citizen to administer the executive government of the United States being not far distant, and the time actually arrived when your thoughts must be employed in designating the person who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprize you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those, out of whom a choice is to be made.
"I beg you, at the same time, to do me the justice to be assured, that this resolution has not been taken, without a strict regard to all the considerations appertaining to the relation which binds a dutiful citizen to his country; and that, in withdrawing the tender of service which silence in my situation might imply, I am influenced by no diminution of zeal for your future interest; no deficiency of grateful respect for your past kindness; but am supported by a full conviction that the step is compatible with both.
"The acceptance of, and continuance hitherto in the office to which your suffrages have twice called me, have been a uniform sacrifice of inclination to the opinion of duty and to a deference for what appeared to be your desire. I constantly hoped that it would have been much earlier in my power, consistently with motives which I was not at liberty to disregard, to return to that retirement from which I had been reluctantly drawn. The strength of my inclination to do this, previous to the last election, had even led to the preparation of an address to declare it to you; but mature reflection on the then perplexed and critical posture of our affairs with foreign nations, and the unanimous advice of persons entitled to my confidence, impelled me to abandon the idea.
"I rejoice that the state of your concerns, external as well as internal, no longer renders the pursuit of inclination incompatible with the sentiment of duty or propriety; and am persuaded, whatever partiality may be retained for my services, that in the present circumstances of our country, you will not disapprove my determination to retire.
"The impressions with which I first undertook the arduous trust, were explained on the proper occasion. In the discharge of this trust, I will only say that I have, with good intentions, contributed towards the organization and administration of the government, the best exertions of which a very fallible judgment was capable. Not unconscious in the outset, of the inferiority of my qualifications, experience, in my own eyes, perhaps still more in the eyes of others, has strengthened the motives to diffidence of myself; and, every day, the increasing weight of years admonishes me more and more, that the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it will be welcome. Satisfied that if any circumstances have given peculiar value to my services, they were temporary, I have the consolation to believe that, while choice and prudence invite me to quit the political scene, patriotism does not forbid it.
"In looking forward to the moment which is to terminate the career of my political life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgment of that debt of gratitude which I owe to my beloved country, for the many honours it has conferred upon me; still more for the steadfast confidence with which it has supported me; and for the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of manifesting my inviolable attachment, by services faithful and persevering, though in usefulness unequal to my zeal. If benefits have resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals, that under circumstances in which the passions, agitated in every direction, were liable to mislead amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of fortune often discouraging—in situations in which not unfrequently, want of success has countenanced the spirit of criticism—the constancy of your support was the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected. Profoundly penetrated with this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing vows, that heaven may continue to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence—that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual—that the free constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained—that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue—that, in fine, the happiness of the people of these states, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete by so careful a preservation, and so prudent a use of this blessing, as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation which is yet a stranger to it.
"Here, perhaps, I ought to stop. But a solicitude for your welfare, which can not end but with my life, and the apprehension of danger, natural to that solicitude, urge me, on an occasion like the present, to offer to your solemn contemplation, and to recommend to your frequent review, some sentiments which are the result of much reflection, of no inconsiderable observation, and which appear to me all important to the permanency of your felicity as a people. These will be offered to you with the more freedom, as you can only see in them the disinterested warnings of a parting friend, who can possibly have no personal motive to bias his counsel. Nor can I forget, as an encouragement to it, your indulgent reception of my sentiments on a former and not dissimilar occasion.
"Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to fortify or confirm the attachment.
"The unity of government which constitutes you one people, is also now dear to you. It is justly so; for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence; the support of your tranquillity at home; your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But, as it is easy to foresee, that from different causes, and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed, to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed; it is of infinite moment, that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can, in any event, be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.
"For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens by birth, or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles.—You have, in a common cause, fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess, are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts, of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.
"But these considerations, however powerfully they address themselves to your sensibility, are greatly outweighed by those which apply more immediately to your interest.—Here, every portion of our country finds the most commanding motives for carefully guarding and preserving the union of the whole.
"The north in an unrestrained intercourse with the south, protected by the equal laws of a common government, finds in the productions of the latter, great additional resources of maritime and commercial enterprise, and precious materials of manufacturing industry.—The south, in the same intercourse, benefiting by the same agency of the north, sees its agriculture grow, and its commerce expand. Turning partly into its own channels the seamen of the north, it finds its particular navigation invigorated; and while it contributes, in different ways, to nourish and increase the general mass of the national navigation, it looks forward to the protection of a maritime strength, to which itself is unequally adapted. The east, in a like intercourse with the west, already finds, and in the progressive improvement of interior communications by land and water, will more and more find a valuable vent for the commodities which it brings from abroad, or manufactures at home. The west derives from the east supplies requisite to its growth and comfort—and what is perhaps of still greater consequence, it must of necessity owe the secure enjoyment of indispensable outlets for its own productions, to the weight, influence, and the future maritime strength of the Atlantic side of the union, directed by an indissoluble community of interest as one nation. Any other tenure by which the west can hold this essential advantage, whether derived from its own separate strength, or from an apostate and unnatural connexion with any foreign power, must be intrinsically precarious.
"While then every part of our country thus feels an immediate and particular interest in union, all the parts combined can not fail to find in the united mass of means and efforts, greater strength, greater resource, proportionably greater security from external danger, a less frequent interruption of their peace by foreign nations; and, what is of inestimable value, they must derive from union an exemption from those broils and wars between themselves, which so frequently afflict neighbouring countries not tied together by the same government; which their own rivalships alone would be sufficient to produce, but which, opposite foreign alliances, attachments, and intrigues, would stimulate and embitter.—Hence likewise, they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments, which under any form of government are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty. In this sense it is, that your union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.
"These considerations speak a persuasive language to every reflecting and virtuous mind, and exhibit the continuance of the union as a primary object of patriotic desire. Is there a doubt whether a common government can embrace so large a sphere? Let experience solve it. To listen to mere speculation in such a case were criminal. We are authorized to hope that a proper organization of the whole, with the auxiliary agency of governments for the respective subdivisions, will afford a happy issue to the experiment. It is well worth a fair and full experiment. With such powerful and obvious motives to union, affecting all parts of our country, while experience shall not have demonstrated its impracticability, there will always be reason to distrust the patriotism of those, who, in any quarter, may endeavour to weaken its bands.
"In contemplating the causes which may disturb our union, it occurs as matter of serious concern, that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations,—northern and southern—Atlantic and western; whence designing men may endeavour to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts, is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You can not shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart burnings which spring from these misrepresentations: they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection. The inhabitants of our western country have lately had a useful lesson on this head: they have seen, in the negotiation by the executive, and in the unanimous ratification by the senate of the treaty with Spain, and in the universal satisfaction at the event throughout the United States, a decisive proof how unfounded were the suspicions propagated among them of a policy in the general government and in the Atlantic states, unfriendly to their interests in regard to the Mississippi. They have been witnesses to the formation of two treaties, that with Great Britain and that with Spain, which secure to them every thing they could desire, in respect to our foreign relations, towards confirming their prosperity. Will it not be their wisdom to rely for the preservation of these advantages on the union by which they were procured? will they not henceforth be deaf to those advisers, if such there are, who would sever them from their brethren, and connect them with aliens?
"To the efficacy and permanency of your union, a government for the whole is indispensable. No alliances, however strict, between the parts can be an adequate substitute; they must inevitably experience the infractions and interruptions which all alliances, in all times, have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon your first essay, by the adoption of a constitution of government better calculated than your former for an intimate union, and for the efficacious management of your common concerns. This government, the offspring of our own choice uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government.—But the constitution which at any time exists, until changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government, presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.
"All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberations and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency.—They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force, to put in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common councils, and modified by mutual interests.
"However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men, will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.
"Towards the preservation of your government and the permanency of your present happy state, it is requisite, not only that you steadily discountenance irregular oppositions to its acknowledged authority, but also that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretext. One method of assault may be to effect, in the forms of the constitution, alterations which will impair the energy of the system; and thus to undermine what can not be directly overthrown. In all the changes to which you may be invited, remember that time and habit are at least as necessary to fix the true character of governments, as of other human institutions:—that experience is the surest standard by which to test the real tendency of the existing constitution of a country:—that facility in changes, upon the credit of mere hypothesis and opinion, exposes to perpetual change from the endless variety of hypothesis and opinion: and remember, especially, that for the efficient management of your common interests, in a country so extensive as ours, a government of as much vigour as is consistent with the perfect security of liberty is indispensable. Liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian. It is, indeed, little else than a name, where the government is too feeble to withstand the enterprises of faction, to confine each member of the society within the limits prescribed by the laws, and to maintain all in the secure and tranquil enjoyment of the rights of person and property.
"I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular references to the founding them on geographical discriminations. Let us now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.
"This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind.—It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.
"The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension, which, in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.—But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and, sooner or later, the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.
"Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party, are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.
"It serves always to distract the public councils, and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another; foments occasional riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.
"There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This, within certain limits, is probably true; and, in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favour, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent it bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.
"It is important likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those intrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department, to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power and proneness to abuse it which predominate in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositories, and constituting each the guardian of the public weal against invasions of the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern: some of them in our country, and under our own eyes.—To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the constitution designates.—But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil, any partial or transient benefit which the use can at any time yield.
"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them.—A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
"It is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?
"Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it should be enlightened.
"As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also, that timely disbursements, to prepare for danger, frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of peace, to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should co-operate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in mind, that towards the payment of debts there must be revenue; that to have revenue, there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment inseparable from the selection of the proper objects, (which is always a choice of difficulties,) ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue, which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.
"Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be that good policy does not equally enjoin it? it will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and, at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt but, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it; can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue? the experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?
"In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another, disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times, it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility, instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives.—The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty of nations has been the victim.
"So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favourite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter, without adequate inducements or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favourite nation, of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained; and by exciting jealousy, ill will, and a disposition to retaliate in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld: and it gives to ambitious, corrupted or deluded citizens who devote themselves to the favourite nation, facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.
"As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practise the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public councils!—such an attachment of a small or weak, towards a great and powerful nation dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.
"Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence, (I conjure you to believe me, fellow citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake; since history and experience prove, that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy, to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defence against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation, and excessive dislike for another, cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favourite, are liable to become suspected and odious; while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.
"The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connexion as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith.—Here, let us stop.
"Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation. Hence, she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns.—Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.
"Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people, under an efficient government, the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon, to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.
"Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humour, or caprice?
"It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But in my opinion, it is unnecessary, and would be unwise to extend them.
"Taking care always to keep ourselves, by suitable establishments, on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.
"Harmony, and a liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favours or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the government to support them, conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view, that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favours from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that by such acceptance, it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favours, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect, or calculate upon real favours from nation to nation. It is an illusion which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.
"In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions; or prevent our nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations; but if I may even flatter myself, that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare by which they have been dictated.
"How far, in the discharge of my official duties, I have been guided by the principles which have been delineated, the public records and other evidences of my conduct must witness to you and to the world. To myself, the assurance of my own conscience is, that I have, at least, believed myself to be guided by them.
"In relation to the still subsisting war in Europe, my proclamation of the 22d of April, 1793, is the index to my plan. Sanctioned by your approving voice, and by that of your representatives in both houses of congress; the spirit of that measure has continually governed me; uninfluenced by any attempts to deter or divert me from it.
"After deliberate examination, with the aid of the best lights I could obtain, I was well satisfied that our country, under all the circumstances of the case, had a right to take, and was bound, in duty and interest, to take a neutral position.—Having taken it, I determined, as far as should depend upon me, to maintain it with moderation, perseverance, and firmness.
"The considerations which respect the right to hold this conduct, it is not necessary on this occasion to detail.—I will only observe that, according to my understanding of the matter, that right, so far from being denied by any of the belligerent powers, has been virtually admitted by all.
"The duty of holding a neutral conduct may be inferred, without anything more, from the obligation which justice and humanity impose on every nation, in cases in which it is free to act, to maintain inviolate the relations of peace and amity towards other nations.
"The inducements of interest for observing that conduct will best be referred to your own reflections and experience. With me, a predominant motive has been to endeavour to gain time to our country to settle and mature its yet recent institutions, and to progress, without interruption, to that degree of strength and consistency which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, the command of its own fortunes.
"Though in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error; I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will never cease to view them with indulgence; and that, after forty-five years of my life dedicated to its service, with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.
"Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love towards it, which is so natural to a man who views in it the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several generations; I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government—the ever favourite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labours, and dangers."
The sentiments of veneration with which this address was generally received, were manifested in almost every part of the union. Some of the state legislatures directed it to be inserted at large in their journals; and nearly all of them passed resolutions expressing their respect for the person of the President, their high sense of his exalted services, and the emotions with which they contemplated his retirement from office. Although the leaders of party might rejoice at this event it produced solemn and anxious reflections in the great body even of those who belonged to the opposition.
The person in whom alone the voice of the people could be united having declined a re-election, the two great parties in America brought forward their respective chiefs; and every possible effort was made by each, to obtain the victory. Mr. John Adams and Mr. Thomas Pinckney, the late minister at London, were supported as President and Vice President by the federalists: the whole force of the opposite party was exerted in favour of Mr. Jefferson.
Motives of vast influence were added, on this occasion, to those which usually impel men in a struggle to retain or acquire power. The continuance or the change not only of those principles on which the internal affairs of the United States had been administered, but of the conduct which had been observed towards foreign nations, was believed to depend on the choice of a chief magistrate. By one party, the system pursued by the existing administration with regard to the belligerent powers, had been uniformly approved; by the other, it had been as uniformly condemned. In the contests therefore which preceded the choice of electors, the justice of the complaints which were made on the part of the French republic were minutely discussed, and the consequences which were to be apprehended from her resentment, or from yielding to her pretensions, were reciprocally urged as considerations entitled to great weight in the ensuing election.
[Sidenote: The minister of France endeavors to influence the approaching election.]
In such a struggle, it was not to be expected that foreign powers could feel absolutely unconcerned. In November, while the parties were so balanced that neither scale could be perceived to preponderate, Mr. Adet addressed a letter to the secretary of state, in which he recapitulated the numerous complaints which had been urged by himself and his predecessors, against the government of the United States; and reproached that government, in terms of great asperity, with violating those treaties which had secured its independence, with ingratitude to France, and with partiality to England. These wrongs, which commenced with the "insidious" proclamation of neutrality, were said to be so aggravated by the treaty concluded with Great Britain, that Mr. Adet announced the orders of the Directory to suspend his ministerial functions with the federal government. "But the cause," he added, "which had so long restrained the just resentment of the executive Directory from bursting forth, now tempered its effects. The name of America, notwithstanding the wrongs of its government, still excited sweet emotions in the hearts of Frenchmen; and the executive Directory wished not to break with a people whom they loved to salute with the appellation of a friend." This suspension of his functions therefore was not to be regarded "as a rupture between France and the United States, but as a mark of just discontent which was to last until the government of the United States returned to sentiments and to measure more conformable to the interests of the alliance, and to the sworn friendship between the two nations."
This letter was concluded in the following terms:
"Alas! Time has not yet demolished the fortifications with which the English roughened this country—nor those the Americans raised for their defence; their half rounded summits still appear in every quarter, amidst plains, on the tops of mountains. The traveller need not search for the ditch which served to encompass them; it is still open under his feet. Scattered ruins of houses laid waste, which the fire had partly respected, in order to leave monuments of British fury, are still to be found.—Men still exist, who can say, here a ferocious Englishman slaughtered my father; there my wife tore her bleeding daughter from the hands of an unbridled Englishman.—Alas! the soldiers who fell under the sword of the Britons are not yet reduced to dust: the labourer in turning up his field, still draws from the bosom of the earth their whitened bones; while the ploughman, with tears of tenderness and gratitude, still recollects that his fields, now covered with rich harvests, have been moistened with French blood. While every thing around the inhabitants of this country animates them to speak of the tyranny of Great Britain, and of the generosity of Frenchmen; when England has declared a war of death to that nation, to avenge herself for its having cemented with its blood the independence of the United States:—It was at this moment their government made a treaty of amity with their ancient tyrant, the implacable enemy of their ancient ally. Oh Americans covered with noble scars! Oh you who have so often flown to death and to victory with French soldiers! You who know those generous sentiments which distinguish the true warrior! whose hearts have always vibrated with those of your companions in arms! consult them to-day to know what they experience; recollect at the same time, that if magnanimous souls with liveliness resent an affront, they also know how to forget one. Let your government return to itself, and you will still find in Frenchmen faithful friends and generous allies."
As if to remove all doubts respecting the purpose for which this extraordinary letter was written, a copy was, on the day of its date, transmitted to a printer for publication.
Whatever motives might have impelled Mr. Adet to make this open and direct appeal to the American people, in the critical moment of their election of a chief magistrate, it does not appear, in any material degree, to have influenced that election. Many reflecting men, who had condemned the course of the administration, could not approve this interference in the internal affairs of the United States; and the opposite party, generally, resented it as an attempt to control the operations of the American people in the exercise of one of the highest acts of sovereignty, and to poison the fountain of their liberty and independence, by mingling foreign intrigue with their elections. Viewing it as a fulfilment of their most gloomy prognostics respecting the designs of France to establish an influence in the councils of America, they believed the best interests of their country to require that it should be defeated; and their exertions against the candidate Mr. Adet was understood to favour, were the more determined and the more vigorous.
[Sidenote: The president's speech to congress.]
On the 7th of December, while this dubious and ardently contested election was depending, the President, for the last time, met the national legislature in the senate chamber. His address on the occasion was comprehensive, temperate, and dignified. In presenting a full and clear view of the situation of the United States, and in recommending those great national measures, in the utility of which he felt a confidence, no personal considerations could induce the omission of those, to which open and extensive hostility had been avowed.