After congratulating congress on the internal situation of the United States, and on the progress of that humane system which had been adopted for the preservation of peace with their Indian neighbours; after stating the measures which had been taken in execution of the treaties with Great Britain, Spain, and Algiers, and the negotiations which were pending with Tunis and Tripoli; he proceeded to say:
"To an active external commerce, the protection of a naval force is indispensable—this is manifest with regard to wars in which a state is itself a party—but besides this, it is in our own experience, that the most sincere neutrality is not a sufficient guard against the depredations of nations at war. To secure respect to a neutral flag, requires a naval force, organized and ready to vindicate it from insult or aggression—this may even prevent the necessity of going to war, by discouraging belligerent powers from committing such violations of the rights of the neutral party, as may first or last, leave no other option. From the best information I have been able to obtain, it would seem as if our trade to the Mediterranean, without a protecting force, will always be insecure; and our citizens exposed to the calamities from which numbers of them have but just been relieved.
"These considerations invite the United States to look to the means, and to set about the gradual creation of a navy. The increasing progress of their navigation promises them, at no distant period, the requisite supply of seamen; and their means, in other respects, favour the undertaking. It is an encouragement likewise, that their particular situation will give weight, and influence, to a moderate naval force in their hands. Will it not then be adviseable, to begin without delay, to provide and lay up the materials for the building and equipping of ships of war; and to proceed in the work by degrees, in proportion as our resources shall render it practicable, without inconvenience; so that a future war of Europe may not find our commerce in the same unprotected state, in which it was found by the present?"
The speech next proceeded earnestly to recommend the establishment of national works for manufacturing such articles as were necessary for the defence of the country; and also of an institution which should grow up under the patronage of the public, and be devoted to the improvement of agriculture. The advantages of a military academy, and of a national university, were also urged; and the necessity of augmenting the compensations to the officers of the United States, in various instances, was explicitly stated.
[Footnote 47: The constitutional power of congress to appropriate money to objects of the description here recommended was denied by the opposition.]
Adverting to the dissatisfaction which had been expressed by one of the great powers of Europe, the President said, "while in our external relations some serious inconveniences and embarrassments have been overcome, and others lessened, it is with much pain and deep regret I mention, that circumstances of a very unwelcome nature have lately occurred. Our trade has suffered, and is suffering extensive injuries in the West Indies from the cruisers and agents of the French republic; and communications have been received from its minister here, which indicate the danger of a further disturbance of our commerce by its authority; and which are, in other respects, far from agreeable.
"It has been my constant, sincere and earnest wish, in conformity with that of our nation, to maintain cordial harmony, and a perfectly friendly understanding with that republic. This wish remains unabated; and I shall persevere in the endeavour to fulfil it to the utmost extent of what shall be consistent with a just and indispensable regard to the rights and honour of our country; nor will I easily cease to cherish the expectation, that a spirit of justice, candour and friendship, on the part of the republic, will eventually ensure success.
"In pursuing this course, however, I can not forget what is due to the character of our government and nation; or to a full and entire confidence in the good sense, patriotism, self-respect, and fortitude of my countrymen.
"I reserve for a special message, a more particular communication on this interesting subject."
The flourishing state of the revenue, the expectation that the system for the gradual extinction of the national debt would be completed at this session, the anxiety which he felt respecting the militia, were successively mentioned, and the speech was concluded in the following terms:
"The situation in which I now stand, for the last time, in the midst of the representatives of the people of the United States, naturally recalls the period when the administration of the present form of government commenced; and I can not omit the occasion to congratulate you, and my country, on the success of the experiment; nor to repeat my fervent supplications to the Supreme Ruler of the universe, and sovereign arbiter of nations, that his providential care may still be extended to the United States;—that the virtue and happiness of the people may be preserved; and that the government, which they have instituted for the protection of their liberties, may be perpetual."
The answer of the senate embraced the various topics of the speech, and approved every sentiment it contained.
To a review of the prosperous situation of the interior of the United States, the senate subjoined—
"Whilst contemplating the causes that produce this auspicious result, we must acknowledge the excellence of the constitutional system, and the wisdom of the legislative provisions;—but we should be deficient in gratitude and justice, did we not attribute a great portion of these advantages, to the virtue, firmness, and talents of your administration; which have been conspicuously displayed, in the most trying times, and on the most critical occasions—it is therefore, with the sincerest regrets, that we now receive an official notification of your intentions to retire from the public employments of your country.
"When we review the various scenes of your public life, so long and so successfully devoted to the most arduous services, civil and military; as well during the struggles of the American revolution, as the convulsive periods of a recent date, we can not look forward to your retirement without our warmest affections, and most anxious regards, accompanying you; and without mingling with our fellow citizens at large, in the sincerest wishes for your personal happiness, that sensibility and attachment can express.
"The most effectual consolation that can offer for the loss we are about to sustain, arises from the animating reflection, that the influence of your example will extend to your successors, and the United States thus continue to enjoy an able, upright, and energetic administration."
In the house of representatives, a committee of five had been appointed to prepare a respectful answer to the speech, three of whom were friends to the administration. Knowing well that the several propositions it contained could not be noticed in detail, without occasioning a debate in which sentiments opposed to those of the address would be expressed, probably by a majority of the house; and hoping that the disposition would be general to avow in strong terms their attachment to the person and character of the President, the committee united in reporting an answer, which, in general terms, promised due attention to the various subjects recommended to their consideration, but was full and explicit in the expression of attachment to himself, and of approbation of his administration.
But the unanimity which prevailed in the committee did not extend to the house.
After amplifying and strengthening the expressions of the report which stated the regrets of the house that any interruption should have taken place in the harmony which had subsisted between the United States and France, and modifying those which declared their hopes in the restoration of that affection which had formerly subsisted between the two republics, so as to avoid any implication that the rupture of that affection was exclusively ascribable to France, a motion was made by Mr. Giles to expunge from the answer the following paragraphs.
"When we advert to the internal situation of the United States, we deem it equally natural and becoming to compare the present period with that immediately antecedent to the operation of the government, and to contrast it with the calamities in which the state of war still involves several of the European nations, as the reflections deduced from both tend to justify, as well as to excite a warmer admiration of our free constitution, and to exalt our minds to a more fervent and grateful sense of piety towards Almighty God for the beneficence of his Providence, by which its administration has been hitherto so remarkably distinguished.
"And while we entertain a grateful conviction that your wise, firm, and patriotic administration has been signally conducive to the success of the present form of government, we can not forbear to express the deep sensations of regret with which we contemplate your intended retirement from office.
"As no other suitable occasion may occur, we can not suffer the present to pass without attempting to disclose some of the emotions which it can not fail to awaken.
"The gratitude and admiration of your countrymen are still drawn to the recollection of those resplendent virtues and talents which were so eminently instrumental to the achievement of the revolution, and of which that glorious event will ever be the memorial. Your obedience to the voice of duty and your country, when you quitted reluctantly, a second time, the retreat you had chosen, and first accepted the presidency, afforded a new proof of the devotedness of your zeal in its service, and an earnest of the patriotism and success which have characterized your administration. As the grateful confidence of the citizens in the virtues of their chief magistrate has essentially contributed to that success, we persuade ourselves that the millions whom we represent, participate with us in the anxious solicitude of the present occasion.
"Yet we can not be unmindful that your moderation and magnanimity, twice displayed by retiring from your exalted stations, afford examples no less rare and instructive to mankind than valuable to a republic.
"Although we are sensible that this event, of itself, completes the lustre of a character already conspicuously unrivalled by the coincidence of virtue, talents, success, and public estimation; yet we conceive we owe it to you, sir, and still more emphatically to ourselves and to our nation, (of the language of whose hearts we presume to think ourselves, at this moment, the faithful interpreters) to express the sentiments with which it is contemplated.
"The spectacle of a free and enlightened nation offering by its representatives the tribute of unfeigned approbation to its first citizen, however novel and interesting it may be, derives all its lustre (a lustre which accident or enthusiasm could not bestow, and which adulation would tarnish) from the transcendent merit, of which it is the voluntary testimony.
"May you long enjoy that liberty which is so dear to you, and to which your name will ever be so dear; may your own virtue and a nation's prayers obtain the happiest sunshine for the decline of your days, and the choicest of future blessings. For our country's sake; for the sake of republican liberty, it is our earnest wish that your example may be the guide of your successors; and thus, after being the ornament and safeguard of the present age, become the patrimony of our descendants."
In support of this motion, after urging the indelicacy of exulting over the misfortunes of others by contrasting our happiness with their misery, Mr. Giles said, that with respect to the wisdom and firmness of the President, he differed in opinion from the answer; and though he might be singular, yet it being his opinion, he should not be afraid to avow it. He had not that grateful conviction there mentioned, and if he were to come there and express it, he should prove an inconsistent character. He should not go into a lengthy discussion on this point, but if they turned their eyes to our foreign relations, there would be found no reason to exult in the wisdom and firmness of the administration. He believed, on the contrary, that it was from a want of wisdom and firmness that we were brought into our present critical situation. If gentlemen had been satisfied with expressing their esteem of the patriotism and virtue of the President, they might have got a unanimous vote; but they could not suppose that gentlemen would so far forget self-respect as to join in the proposed adulation.
[Footnote 48: Some objection has been made to the accuracy of this speech, as reported in the Daily Advertiser. The author has therefore deemed it proper to make some extracts from the Aurora, the leading paper of that party, of which Mr. Giles was a conspicuous member.
Mr. Giles, after stating that "the want of wisdom and firmness" in the administration, "had conducted the affairs of the nation to a crisis which threatens greater calamities than any that has before occurred,"—remarks as follows:—"Another sentiment in the report he could not agree to. He did not regret the President's retiring from office. He hoped he would retire, and enjoy the happiness that awaited him in retirement. He believed it would more conduce to that happiness that he should retire than if he should remain in office. He believed the government of the United States, founded on the broad basis of the people, that they were competent to their own government, and the remaining of no man in office was necessary to the success of that government. The people would truly be in a calamitous situation, if one man were essential to the existence of the government. He was convinced that the United States produces a thousand citizens capable of filling the presidential chair, and he would trust to the discernment of the people for a proper choice. Though the voice of all America should declare the President's retiring as a calamity, he could not join in the declaration, because he did not conceive it a misfortune. He hoped the President would be happy in his retirement, and he hoped he would retire." He reverted again to that part of the report which declared the administration to have been wise and firm in its measures. "He had always disapproved," he repeated, "of the measures of that administration with respect to foreign relations, and many members of the house had also; he was therefore surprised that gentlemen should now come forward and wish him, in one breath, to disavow all his former opinions, without being previously convinced of having been in an error. For his own part, he conceived there was more cause than ever for adhering to his old opinion. The course of events had pointed out their propriety; and, if he was not much mistaken, a crisis was at hand which would confirm them. He wished, that while gentlemen were willing to compliment the President, they would have some respect for the feelings of others."—Aurora, December 15th, 1796.]
Mr. Giles said he was one of those citizens who did not regret the President's retiring from office. He hoped he would retire to his country seat and enjoy all the happiness he could wish; and he believed he would enjoy more there than in his present situation. He believed the government of the United States would go on without him. The people were competent to their own government. What calamities would attend the United States if one man alone was essential to their government! He believed there were a thousand men in the United States who were capable of filling the presidential chair as well as it had been filled heretofore. And although a clamour had been raised in all parts of the United States, more or less, from apprehensions on the departure of the President from office, yet, not feeling these apprehensions himself, he was perfectly easy on the occasion. He wished the President as much happiness as any man; and hoping he would retire, he could not express any regrets at the event. And it would be extraordinary, if gentlemen whose names in the yeas and nays are found in opposition to certain prominent measures of the administration, should now come forward and approve those measures. This could not be expected. He, for his part, retained the same opinions he had always done with respect to those measures, nor should any influence under heaven prevent him from expressing that opinion—an opinion in which he was confident, ere long, all America would concur.
[Footnote 49: Dunlap and Claypole's Daily Advertiser, December 16th, 1796.]
This motion was opposed with great earnestness by the party which had supported the administration. The advantages which had resulted from the constitution were said to be too obvious to be controverted; and it was maintained that a comparison of the present situation of the United States with its condition anterior to the adoption of that instrument, or with the condition of foreign powers, was natural and proper. This comparison was made not for the purposes of exultation, but of exciting just sentiments respecting their own conduct.
In reply to the observations respecting the President, it was said, that the whole course of his administration had demonstrated the correctness with which the terms "wisdom and firmness" were applied to it. Particular circumstances were stated in which these qualities had been pre-eminently displayed; but the general impression which facts had made on the public mind was considered as dispensing with the necessity of stating the particular facts themselves.
It might be true, they said, that there were many others who could fill with propriety and advantage the presidential chair, but no man could fill it who possessed, in an equal degree, the confidence of the people. The possession of this confidence enabled the chief magistrate to perform the duties of his office in a manner greatly conducive to the interests of the nation, and the loss of so valuable a public servant was certainly just cause of regret. With this sentiment, the feelings of the community fully accorded. In every part of the United States, the declarations of their constituents attested the regrets with which this event was contemplated by them. Those gentlemen who did not participate in these feelings would have an opportunity to record their names with their opinions. But those who did participate in them ought not to be restrained from expressing them.
The motion to strike out was lost; after which the words "the spectacle of a whole nation, the freest and most enlightened in the world," were amended, so as to read, "the spectacle of a free and enlightened nation," and the answer was carried by a great majority.
Early in the session, the President communicated to congress in a special message, the complaints alleged by the representative of the French republic against the government of the United States. These complaints embracing most of the transactions of the legislative and executive departments, in relation to the belligerent powers, a particular and careful review of almost every act of the administration, which could affect those powers, became indispensable. The principal object for the mission of General Pinckney to Paris, having been to make full and fair explanations of the principles and conduct of the American government, this review was addressed to that minister. It presented a minute and comprehensive detail of all the points of controversy which had arisen between the two nations; and defended the measures which had been adopted in America, with a clearness, and a strength of argument, believed to be irresistible. To place the subject in a point of view, admitting of no possible misunderstanding, the secretary of state had annexed to his own full and demonstrative reasoning, documents, establishing the real fact in each particular case, and the correspondence relating to it.
This letter, with its accompanying documents, was laid before congress.
Those who read these valuable papers will not be surprised, that the President should have relied upon their efficacy in removing from the government of France, all impressions unfavourable to the fairness of intention which had influenced the conduct of the United States; and in effacing from the bosoms of the great body of the American people, all those unjust and injurious suspicions which had been entertained against their own administration. Should their immediate operation on the executive of France disappoint his hopes, he persuaded himself that he could not mistake their influence in America; and he felt the most entire conviction that the accusations against the United States would cease, with the evidence that those accusations were countenanced and supported by a great portion of the American people.
These documents were communicated to the public; but, unfortunately, their effect at home was not such as had been expected, and they were consequently inoperative abroad. The fury of political controversy seemed to sustain no diminution; and the American character continued to be degraded by reciprocal criminations, which the two great parties made upon each other, of being under a British, and a French influence.
The measures particularly recommended by the President in his speech, at the opening of the session, were not adopted; and neither the debates in Congress, nor the party publications with which the nation continued to be agitated, furnished reasonable ground for the hope, that the political intemperance which had prevailed from the establishment of the republican form of government in France, was about to be succeeded by a more conciliatory spirit.
The President contemplated with a degree of pleasure seldom felt at the resignation of power, his approaching retirement to the delightful scenes of domestic and rural life.
[Footnote 50: See note No. XV. at the end of the volume.]
It was impossible to be absolutely insensible to the bitter invectives, and malignant calumnies of which he had long been the object. Yet in one instance only, did he depart from the rule he had prescribed for his conduct regarding them. Apprehending permanent injury from the republication of certain spurious letters which have been already noticed, he, on the day which terminated his official character, addressed to the secretary of state the following letter.
[Sidenote: He denies the authenticity of certain spurious letters published as his in 1776.]
"At the conclusion of my public employments, I have thought it expedient to notice the publication of certain forged letters which first appeared in the year 1777, and were obtruded upon the public as mine. They are said by the editor to have been found in a small portmanteau that I had left in the care of my mulatto servant named Billy, who, it is pretended, was taken prisoner at Fort Lee, in 1776. The period when these letters were first printed will be recollected, and what were the impressions they were intended to produce on the public mind. It was then supposed to be of some consequence to strike at the integrity of the motives of the American Commander-in-chief, and to paint his inclinations as at variance with his professions and his duty—another crisis in the affairs of America having occurred, the same weapon has been resorted to, to wound my character and deceive the people.
"The letters in question have the dates, addresses, and signatures here following:
New York, June 12th, 1776.
To Mr. Lund Washington, at Mount Vernon, Fairfax county, Virginia.
June 18th, 1776.
To John Parke Custis, Esqr., at the Hon Benedict Calvert's Esqr., Mount Airy, Maryland.
New York, July 8th, 1776.
To Mr. Lund Washington, Mount Vernon, Fairfax county, Virginia.
New York, July 16th, 1776.
To Mr. Lund Washington.
New York, July 15th, 1776.
To Mr. Lund Washington.
New York, July 22d, 1776.
To Mr. Lund Washington.
June 24th, 1776.
To Mrs. Washington.
"At the time when these letters first appeared, it was notorious to the army immediately under my command, and particularly to the gentlemen attached to my person, that my mulatto man Billy had never been one moment in the power of the enemy. It is also a fact that no part of my baggage, or any of my attendants, were captured during the whole course of the war. These well known facts made it unnecessary, during the war, to call the public attention to the forgery by any express declaration of mine; and a firm reliance on my fellow citizens, and the abundant proofs they gave of their confidence in me, rendered it alike unnecessary to take any formal notice of the revival of the imposition, during my civil administration. But as I can not know how soon a more serious event may succeed to that which will this day take place, I have thought it a duty that I owed to myself, to my country, and to truth, now to detail the circumstances above recited, and to add my solemn declaration that the letters herein described are a base forgery, and that I never saw or heard of them until they appeared in print. The present letter I commit to your care, and desire it may be deposited in the office of the department of state, as a testimony of the truth to the present generation and to posterity. Accept, &c. &c."
[Sidenote: John Adams elected president, and Thomas Jefferson vice president.]
In February, the votes for the first and second magistrates of the union were opened and counted in presence of both houses; and the highest number appearing in favour of Mr. Adams, and the second in favour of Mr. Jefferson, the first was declared to be the President, and the second the Vice President, of the United States, for four years to commence on the fourth day of the ensuing March.
On that day, the members of the senate, conducted by the Vice President, together with the officers of the general and state governments, and an immense concourse of citizens, convened in the hall of the house of representatives, in which the oaths were administered to the President.
The sensibility which was manifested when General Washington entered, did not surpass the cheerfulness which overspread his own countenance, nor the heartfelt pleasure with which he saw another invested with the powers that had so long been exercised by himself.
[Footnote 51: See note No. XVI. at the end of the volume.]
[Sidenote: General Washington retires to Mount Vernon.]
After the solemnities of the occasion had been concluded, and he had paid to his successor those respectful compliments which he believed to be equally due to the man and to the office, he hastened to that real felicity which awaited him at Mount Vernon, the enjoyment of which he had long impatiently anticipated.
[Footnote 52: See note No. XVII. at the end of the volume.]
The same marks of respect and affection for his person, which had on all great occasions been manifested by his fellow citizens, still attended him. His endeavours to render his journey private were unavailing; and the gentlemen of the country through which he passed, were still ambitious of testifying their sentiments for the man who had, from the birth of the republic, been deemed the first of American citizens. Long after his retirement, he continued to receive addresses from legislative bodies, and various classes of citizens, expressive of the high sense entertained of his services.
Notwithstanding the extraordinary popularity of the first President of the United States, scarcely has any important act of his administration escaped the most bitter invective.
[Sidenote: Political situation of the United States at this period.]
On the real wisdom of the system which he pursued, every reader will decide for himself. Time will, in some measure, dissipate the prejudices and passions of the moment, and enable us to view objects through a medium which represents them truly.
Without taking a full review of measures which were reprobated by one party and applauded by the other, the reader may be requested to glance his eye at the situation of the United States in 1797, and to contrast it with their condition in 1788.
At home, a sound credit had been created; an immense floating debt had been funded in a manner perfectly satisfactory to the creditors: an ample revenue had been provided; those difficulties which a system of internal taxation, on its first introduction, is doomed to encounter, were completely removed; and the authority of the government was firmly established. Funds for the gradual payment of the debt had been provided; a considerable part of it had been actually discharged; and that system which is now operating its entire extinction, had been matured and adopted. The agricultural and commercial wealth of the nation had increased beyond all former example. The numerous tribes of warlike Indians, inhabiting those immense tracts which lie between the then cultivated country and the Mississippi, had been taught, by arms and by justice, to respect the United States, and to continue in peace. This desirable object having been accomplished, that humane system was established for civilizing, and furnishing them with the conveniences of life which improves their condition, while it secures their attachment.
Abroad, the differences with Spain had been accommodated; and the free navigation of the Mississippi had been acquired, with the use of New Orleans as a place of deposit for three years, and afterwards, until some other equivalent place should be designated. Those causes of mutual exasperation which had threatened to involve the United States in a war with the greatest maritime and commercial power in the world, had been removed; and the military posts which had been occupied within their territory, from their existence as a nation, had been evacuated. Treaties had been formed with Algiers and with Tripoli, and no captures appear to have been made by Tunis; so that the Mediterranean was opened to American vessels.
This bright prospect was indeed, in part, shaded by the discontents of France. Those who have attended to the particular points of difference between the two nations, will assign the causes to which these discontents are to be ascribed, and will judge whether it was in the power of the President to have avoided them, without surrendering the real independence of the nation, and the most invaluable of all rights —the right of self-government.
Such was the situation of the United States at the close of Washington's administration. Their circumstances at its commencement will be recollected; and the contrast is too striking not to be observed.
That this beneficial change in the affairs of America is to be ascribed exclusively to the wisdom which guided the national councils will not be pretended. That many of the causes which produced it originated with the government, and that their successful operation was facilitated, if not secured, by the system which was adopted, will scarcely be denied. To estimate that system correctly, their real influence must be allowed to those strong prejudices, and turbulent passions, with which it was assailed.
Accustomed in the early part of his life to agricultural pursuits, and possessing a real taste for them, General Washington was particularly well qualified to enjoy, in retirement, that tranquil felicity which he had anticipated. Resuming former habits, and returning to ancient and well known employments, he was familiar with his new situation, and therefore exempt from the danger of that disappointment which is the common lot of those who, in old age, retire from the toils of business, or the cares of office, to the untried pleasures of the country. A large estate, which exhibited many proofs of having been long deprived of the attentions of its proprietor, in the management and improvement of which he engaged with ardour, an extensive correspondence, and the society of men and books, gave employment to every hour which was equally innocent and interesting, and furnished ground for the hope that the evening of a life which had been devoted to the public service, would be as serene, as its mid-day had been brilliant.
Though devoted to these occupations, an absolute indifference to public affairs would have been incompatible with that love of country which had influenced all his conduct. Feeling strong impressions in favour of that system, with regard to foreign powers, which had been adopted by himself, and which was faithfully pursued by his successor, he could not be inattentive to the immense, and continued exertions, made by a powerful party to overturn it. Yet for a time, he sought to abstract himself from these political contests, and to diminish the interest which his feelings impelled him to take in them. His letters abound in paragraphs not unlike the following. "I have confidence however in that Providence which has shielded the United States from the evils that have hitherto threatened them; and, as I believe the major part of the people of this country to be well affected to its constitution and government, I rest satisfied that, should a crisis ever arise to call forth the sense of the community, it will be strong in support of the honour and dignity of the nation. Therefore, however much I regret the opposition which has for its object the embarrassment of the administration, I shall view things in the 'calm light of mild philosophy,' and endeavour to finish my course in retirement and ease."
But the designs of France were soon manifested in a form which, to the veteran soldier and statesman of Mount Vernon, appeared to be too dangerous as well as unequivocal, to admit the preservation of this equanimity.
[Sidenote: The French government refuses to receive General Pinckney as minister.]
In the executive of that republic, General Pinckney encountered dispositions of a very different character from that amicable and conciliatory temper which had dictated his mission. After inspecting his letter of credence, the Directory announced to him their haughty determination "not to receive another minister plenipotentiary from the United States, until after the redress of grievances demanded of the American government, which the French republic had a right to expect from it." This message was succeeded, first by indecorous verbal communications, calculated to force the American minister out of France, and afterwards, by a written mandate to quit the territories of the republic.
This act of hostility was accompanied with another which would explain the motives for this conduct, if previous measures had not rendered all further explanation unnecessary.
On giving to the recalled minister his audience of leave, the president of the directory addressed a speech to him, in which terms of outrage to the government, were mingled with expressions of affection for the people of the United States; and the expectation of ruling the former, by their influence over the latter, was too clearly manifested not to be understood. To complete this system of hostility, American vessels were captured wherever found; and, under the pretext of their wanting a document, with which the treaty of commerce had been uniformly understood to dispense, they were condemned as prize.
[Sidenote: Congress is convened.]
[Sidenote: President's speech.]
This serious state of things demanded a solemn consideration. On receiving from General Pinckney the despatches which communicated it, the President issued his proclamation requiring congress to meet on the 15th day of June. The firm and dignified speech delivered by the chief magistrate at the commencement of the session, exhibited that sensibility which a high minded and real American might be expected to feel, while representing to the national legislature the great and unprovoked outrages of a foreign government. Adverting to the audience of leave given by the executive Directory to Colonel Monroe, he said, "the speech of the President discloses sentiments more alarming than the refusal of a minister, because more dangerous to our independence and union; and, at the same time, studiously marked with indignities towards the government of the United States. It evinces a disposition to separate the people from their government; to persuade them that they have different affections, principles, and interests from those of their fellow citizens whom they themselves have chosen to manage their common concerns; and thus to produce divisions fatal to our peace. Such attempts ought to be repelled with a decision which shall convince France, and the world, that we are not a degraded people, humiliated under a colonial spirit of fear, and sense of inferiority, fitted to be the miserable instruments of foreign influence, and regardless of national honour, character, and interest."
"Retaining still the desire which had uniformly been manifested by the American government to preserve peace and friendship with all nations, and believing that neither the honour nor the interest of the United States absolutely forbade the repetition of advances for securing these desirable objects with France, he should," he said, "institute a fresh attempt at negotiation, and should not fail to promote and accelerate an accommodation on terms compatible with the rights, duties, interests, and honour of the nation." But while he should be making these endeavours to adjust all differences with the French republic by amicable negotiation, he earnestly recommended it to congress to provide effectual measures of defence.
[Sidenote: Three envoys extraordinary deputed to negotiate with France.]
To carry into effect the pacific dispositions avowed in the speech, three envoys extraordinary were appointed, at the head of whom General Pinckney was placed. Their instructions conformed to the public language of the President. Peace and reconciliation were to be pursued by all means, compatible with the honour and the faith of the United States; but no national engagements were to be impaired; no innovation to be permitted upon those internal regulations for the preservation of peace which had been deliberately and uprightly established; nor were the rights of the government to be surrendered.
The debates in the house of representatives, on the answer to the speech, were long and earnest. To expressions approving the conduct of the executive with regard to foreign nations, the opposition was ardent, but unsuccessful. On the third of June, an answer was agreed to which contained sentiments worthy of an American legislature, and for which several of the leaders of the opposition voted.
The speech of the President was well adapted to the occasion, and to the times. It was calculated to rouse those indignant feelings which a high spirited people, insulted and injured by a foreign power, can never fail to display, if their judgment be not blinded, or their sensibility to external wrongs blunted, by invincible prejudices. He relied principally on the manifestation of these feelings for the success of the negotiation; and on their real existence, for the defence of the national rights, should negotiation fail. His endeavours were not absolutely unsuccessful. Some impression was made on the mass of the people; but it was too slight to be productive of the advantages expected from it. The conduct of France was still openly defended; and the opinion, that the measures which had been adopted by the executive of the United States furnished that republic with just cause of war, was still publicly maintained, and indefatigably circulated. According to these opinions, America could entitle herself to peace, only by retracing the steps she had taken, and yielding to the demands of her justly offended but generous and magnanimous ally.
Still jealous for the honour, as well as confident of the importance, of his country, and retaining that full conviction respecting the propriety of its measures which had induced their adoption, General Washington could not repress the solicitude with which he contemplated passing events. His confidential letters disclose the strong feelings of his own bosom, but betray no apprehensions that the French government would press its present system to extremities. He firmly believed that the hostile attitude it had assumed was to be, exclusively, ascribed to the conduct of those Americans who had been the uniform advocates of all the pretensions of France, and who were said to be supported by a real majority of the people; and confidently expected that, under the old pretext of magnanimous forbearance, the executive directory would, slowly, and gradually, recede from its present system, so soon as the error in which it originated should become manifest. The opinion he had always entertained of the good sense and patriotism of his fellow citizens, silenced every doubt respecting the manner in which they would act, when their real situation should be perceived by themselves.
For a considerable length of time, no certain intelligence reached the United States respecting the negotiation at Paris. At length, in the winter of 1798, letters were received from the American envoys, indicating an unfavourable state of things; and, in the spring, despatches arrived which announced the total failure of the mission.
History will scarcely furnish the example of a nation, not absolutely degraded, which has received from a foreign power such open contumely, and undisguised insult, as were, on this occasion, suffered by the United States in the persons of their ministers.
[Sidenote: Their treatment.]
It was insinuated that their being taken from the party which had supported the measures of their own government furnished just cause of umbrage; and, under slight pretexts, the executive directory delayed to accredit them as the representatives of an independent nation. In this situation, they were assailed by persons, not indeed invested with formal authority, but exhibiting sufficient evidence of the source from which their powers were derived, who, in direct and explicit terms, demanded money from the United States as the condition which must precede, not only the reconciliation of America to France, but any negotiation on the differences between the two countries.
[Footnote 53: Two of them were of the party denominated federal; the third was arranged with the opposition.]
That an advance of money by a neutral to a belligerent power would be an obvious departure from neutrality, though an insuperable objection to this demand, did not constitute the most operative reason for repelling it. Such were the circumstances under which it was made, that it could not be acceded to without a surrender of the real independence of the United States; nor without being, in fact, the commencement of a system, the end of which it was impossible to foresee.
A decided negative was therefore given to the preliminary required by these unofficial agents; but they returned to the charge with wonderful perseverance, and used unwearied arts to work upon the fears of the American ministers for their country, and for themselves. The immense power of France was painted in glowing colours, the humiliation of the house of Austria was stated, and the conquest of Britain was confidently anticipated. In the friendship of France alone, it was said, could America look for safety; and the fate of Venice was held up to warn her of the danger which awaited those who incurred the displeasure of the great republic. The ministers were assured that, if they believed their conduct would be approved in the United States, they were mistaken. The means which the Directory possessed, in that country, to excite odium against them, were great, and would unquestionably be employed.
This degrading intercourse was at length interrupted by the positive refusal of the envoys to hold any further communication with the persons employed in it.
Meanwhile, they urged the object of their mission with persevering but unavailing solicitude. The Directory still refused to acknowledge them in their public character; and the secretary of exterior relations, at unofficial visits which they made him, renewed the demand which his agents had unsuccessfully pressed.
Finding the objections to their reception in their official character insurmountable, the American ministers made a last effort to execute the duties assigned to them. In a letter addressed to the secretary of exterior relations, they entered at large into the explanations committed to them by their government, and illustrated, by a variety of facts, the uniform friendliness of its conduct to France. Notwithstanding the failure of this effort, and their perfect conviction that all further attempts would be equally unavailing, they continued, with a passiveness which must search for its apology in their solicitude to demonstrate to the American people the real views of the French republic, to employ the only means in their power to avert the rupture which was threatened, and which appeared to be inevitable.
[Footnote 54: It is a remarkable fact, that the answer of the French minister to this letter, an answer which criminated the American government in bitter terms, was in the possession of a printer in Philadelphia who had uniformly supported the pretensions of that republic, before it reached the American government.]
During these transactions, occasion was repeatedly taken to insult the American government; open war was continued to be waged by the cruisers of France on American commerce; and the flag of the United States was a sufficient justification for the capture and condemnation of any vessel over which it waved.
At length, when the demonstration became complete, that the resolution of the American envoys was not less fixed, than their conduct had been guarded and temperate, various attempts were made to induce two of them, voluntarily, to relinquish their station; on the failure of which, they were ordered to quit the territories of the republic. As if to aggravate this national insult, the third, who had been selected from that party which was said to be friendly to France, was permitted to remain, and was invited to resume the discussions which had been interrupted.
The despatches communicating these events were laid before congress, and were afterwards published. The indignation which they excited was warm and extensive. The attempt to degrade the United States into a tributary nation was too obvious to be concealed; and the resentment produced, as well by this attempt as by the threats which accompanied it, was not confined to the federalists. For the moment, a spirit was roused on which an American may reflect with pride, and which he may consider as a sure protection from external danger. In every part of the continent, the favourite sentiment was "millions for defence, not a cent for tribute."
The disposition still existed to justify France, by criminating the American government, by contending that her intentions were not really hostile, that her conduct was misrepresented by men under British influence, who wished for war, or had been deceived by unauthorized intriguers; that, admitting it to be otherwise, she only demanded those marks of friendship which, at a critical moment, she had herself afforded; that the real interests of the United States required a compliance with this demand; that it would cost more money to resist than to yield to it; that the resistance would infallibly be ineffectual; and that national honour was never secured by national defeat. Neither these sentiments, nor the arguments which were founded on them, accorded with the general feeling; and it required the co-operation of other causes to establish the influence of those who urged them.
[Sidenote: Measures of hostility adopted by the American government against France.]
In congress, vigorous measures were adopted for retaliating injuries which had been sustained, and for repelling those which were threatened. Amongst these was a regular army. A regiment of artillerists and engineers was added to the permanent establishment; and the President was authorized to raise twelve additional regiments of infantry, and one regiment of cavalry, to serve during the continuance of the existing differences with the French republic if not sooner discharged. He was also authorized to appoint officers for a provisional army, and to receive and organize volunteer corps who would be exempt from ordinary militia duty; but neither the volunteers nor the officers of the provisional army were to receive pay unless called into actual service.
Addresses to the executive from every part of the United States attested the high spirit of the nation, and the answers of the President were well calculated to give it solidity and duration.
[Footnote 55: Having heard that the President contemplated a tour as far south as the district of Columbia, General Washington invited him to Mount Vernon, and concluded his letter with saying: "I pray you to believe that no one has read the various approbatory addresses which have been presented to you with more heartfelt satisfaction than I have done, nor are there any who more sincerely wish that your administration of the government may be easy, happy and honourable to yourself, and prosperous to the country."]
No sooner had a war become probable, to the perils of which no man could be insensible, than the eyes of all were directed to General Washington, as the person who should command the American army. He alone could be seen at the head of a great military force without exciting jealousy; he alone could draw into public service, and arrange properly the best military talents of the nation; and he more than any other, could induce the utmost exertions of its physical strength.
Indignant at the unprovoked injuries which had been heaped upon his country, and convinced that the conflict, should a war be really prosecuted by France with a view to conquest, would be extremely severe, and could be supported, on the part of America, only by a persevering exertion of all her force, he could not determine, should such a crisis arrive, to withhold those aids which it might be in his power to afford, should public opinion really attach to his services that importance which would render them essential. His own reflections appear to have resulted in a determination not to refuse once more to take the field, provided he could be permitted to secure efficient aid by naming the chief officers of the army, and to remain at home until his service in the field should be required by actual invasion.
A confidential and interesting letter from Colonel Hamilton of the 19th of May, on political subjects, concludes with saying, "You ought also to be aware, my dear sir, that in the event of an open rupture with France, the public voice will again call you to command the armies of your country; and though all who are attached to you will from attachment as well as public considerations, deplore an occasion which should once more tear you from that repose to which you have so good a right; yet it is the opinion of all those with whom I converse that you will be compelled to make the sacrifice. All your past labours may demand, to give them efficacy, this further, this very great sacrifice."
"You may be assured," said General Washington in reply, "that my mind is deeply impressed with the present situation of public affairs, and not a little agitated by the outrageous conduct of France towards the United States, and at the inimitable conduct of those partisans who aid and abet her measures. You may believe further, from assurances equally sincere, that if there was any thing in my power to be done consistently, to avert or lessen the danger of the crisis, it should be rendered with hand and heart.
"But, my dear sir, dark as matters appear at present, and expedient as it is to be prepared for the worst that can happen, (and no man is more disposed to this measure than I am) I can not make up my mind yet, for the expectation of open war; or, in other words, for a formidable invasion by France. I can not believe, although I think her capable of any thing, that she will attempt to do more than she has done. When she perceives the spirit and policy of this country rising into resistance, and that she has falsely calculated upon support from a large part of the people to promote her views and influence in it, she will desist even from those practices, unless unexpected events in Europe, or the acquisition of Louisiana and the Floridas, should induce her to continue them. And I believe further, that although the leaders of their party in this country will not change their sentiments, they will be obliged to change their plan, or the mode of carrying it on. The effervescence which is appearing in all quarters, and the desertion of their followers, will frown them into silence—at least for a while.
[Footnote 56: See note No. XVIII. at the end of the volume.]
"If I did not view things in this light, my mind would be infinitely more disquieted than it is: for, if a crisis should arrive when a sense of duty, or a call from my country should become so imperious as to leave me no choice, I should prepare for relinquishment, and go with as much reluctance from my present peaceful abode, as I should go to the tombs of my ancestors."
The opinion that prudence required preparations for open war, and that General Washington must once more be placed at the head of the American armies, strengthened every day; and on the 22d of June, the President addressed him a letter in which that subject was thus alluded to.
"In forming an army, whenever I must come to that extremity, I am at an immense loss whether to call out the old generals, or to appoint a young set. If the French come here, we must learn to march with a quick step, and to attack, for in that way only they are said to be vulnerable. I must tax you, sometimes, for advice. We must have your name, if you will in any case permit us to use it. There will be more efficacy in it than in many an army."
A letter from the secretary of war, written four days afterwards, concludes with asking, "May we flatter ourselves that, in a crisis so awful and important, you will accept the command of all our armies? I hope you will, because you alone can unite all hearts and all hands, if it is possible that they can be united."
These letters reached General Washington on the same day. The following extract from his reply to the President will exhibit the course of his reflections relative to his appearance once more at the head of the American armies.
"At the epoch of my retirement, an invasion of these states by any European power, or even the probability of such an event in my days, was so far from being contemplated by me, that I had no conception either that or any other occurrence would arise in so short a period which could turn my eyes from the shades of Mount Vernon. But this seems to be the age of wonders. And it is reserved for intoxicated and lawless France (for purposes of Providence far beyond the reach of human ken) to slaughter her own citizens, and to disturb the repose of all the world besides. From a view of the past,—from the prospect of the present,—and of that which seems to be expected, it is not easy for me to decide satisfactorily on the part it might best become me to act. In case of actual invasion by a formidable force, I certainly should not intrench myself under the cover of age and retirement, if my services should be required by my country to assist in repelling it. And if there be good cause to expect such an event, which certainly must be better known to the government than to private citizens, delay in preparing for it may be dangerous, improper, and not to be justified by prudence. The uncertainty however of the latter, in my mind, creates my embarrassment; for I can not bring it to believe, regardless as the French are of treaties, and of the laws of nations, and capable as I conceive them to be of any species of despotism and injustice, that they will attempt to invade this country after such a uniform and unequivocal expression of the determination of the people in all parts to oppose them with their lives and fortunes. That they have been led to believe by their agents and partisans among us that we are a divided people, that the latter are opposed to their own government, and that the show of a small force would occasion a revolt, I have no doubt; and how far these men (grown desperate) will further attempt to deceive, and may succeed in keeping up the deception, is problematical. Without that, the folly of the Directory in such an attempt would, I conceive, be more conspicuous, if possible, than their wickedness.
"Having with candour made this disclosure of the state of my mind, it remains only for me to add, that to those who knew me best, it is best known that, should imperious circumstances induce me to exchange once more the smooth paths of retirement for the thorny ways of public life, at a period too when repose is more congenial to nature, it would be productive of sensations which can be more easily conceived than expressed."
His letter to the secretary of war was more detailed and more explicit. "It can not," he said, "be necessary for me to promise to you or to others who know my sentiments, that to quit the tranquillity of retirement, and enter the boundless field of responsibility, would be productive of sensations which a better pen than I possess would find it difficult to describe. Nevertheless, the principle by which my conduct has been actuated through life, would not surfer me, in any great emergency, to withhold any services I could render when required by my country;—especially in a case where its dearest rights are assailed by lawless ambition and intoxicated power, in contempt of every principle of justice, and in violation of solemn compact, and of laws which govern all civilized nations:—and this too with the obvious intent to sow thick the seeds of disunion for the purpose of subjugating our government, and destroying our independence and happiness.
"Under circumstances like these, accompanied by an actual invasion of our territory, it would be difficult for me, at any time, to remain an idle spectator, under the plea of age or retirement. With sorrow, it is true, I should quit the shades of my peaceful abode, and the ease and happiness I now enjoy, to encounter anew the turmoils of war, to which, possibly, my strength and powers might be found incompetent. These, however, should not be stumbling blocks in my own way. But there are other things highly important for me to ascertain and settle before I could give a definite answer to your question.
1st. The propriety in the opinion of the public, so far as that opinion has been expressed in conversation, of my appearing again on the public theatre, after declaring the sentiments I did in my valedictory address of September, 1796.
2dly. A conviction in my own breast, from the best information that can be obtained, that it is the wish of my country that its military force should be committed to my charge; and,
3dly. That the army now to be formed should be so appointed as to afford a well grounded hope of its doing honour to the country, and credit to him who commands it in the field.
"On each of these heads you must allow me to make observations."
General Washington then proceeded to detail his sentiments on those points on which his consent to take command of the army must depend.
[Sidenote: General Washington appointed commander-in-chief of the American Army.]
Some casual circumstances delayed the reception of the letters of the President and secretary of war for several days, in consequence of which, before the answer of General Washington reached the seat of government, the President had nominated him to the chief command of all the armies raised or to be raised in the United States, with the rank of Lieutenant General; and the senate had unanimously advised and consented to his appointment.
By the secretary of war, who was directed to wait upon him with his commission, the President addressed to him the following letter:
"Mr. M'Henry, the secretary of war, will have the honour to wait on you in my behalf, to impart to you a step I have ventured to take, which I should have been happy to have communicated in person, had such a journey, at this time, been in my power.
"My reasons for this measure will be too well known to need any explanation to the public. Every friend and every enemy of America will comprehend them at first blush. To you, sir, I owe all the apology I can make. The urgent necessity I am in of your advice and assistance, indeed of your conduct and direction of the war, is all I can urge; and that is a sufficient justification to myself and to the world. I hope it will be so considered by yourself. Mr. M'Henry will have the honour to consult you upon the organization of the army, and upon every thing relating to it."
Open instructions, signed by the President, were on the same day delivered to the secretary of war, of which the following is a copy:
"It is my desire that you embrace the first opportunity to set out on your journey to Mount Vernon, and wait on General Washington with the commission of Lieutenant General and Commander-in-chief of the armies of the United States, which, by the advice and consent of the senate, has been signed by me.
"The reasons and motives which prevailed on me to venture on such a step as the nomination of this great and illustrious character, whose voluntary resignation alone occasioned my introduction to the office I now hold, were too numerous to be detailed in this letter, and are too obvious and important to escape the observation of any part of America or Europe. But as it is a movement of great delicacy, it will require all your address to communicate the subject in a manner that shall be inoffensive to his feelings, and consistent with all the respect that is due from me to him.
"If the General should decline the appointment, all the world will be silent, and respectfully acquiesce. If he should accept it, all the world, except the enemies of his country, will rejoice. If he should come to no decisive determination, but take the subject into consideration, I shall not appoint any other lieutenant general until his conclusion is known.
"His advice in the formation of a list of officers would be extremely desirable to me. The names of Lincoln, Morgan, Knox, Hamilton, Gates, Pinckney, Lee, Carrington, Hand, Muhlenberg, Dayton, Burr, Brooks, Cobb, Smith, as well as the present Commander-in-chief, may be mentioned to him, and any others that occur to you. Particularly, I wish to have his opinion on the men most suitable for inspector general, adjutant general, and quarter master general.
"His opinion on all subjects would have great weight, and I wish you to obtain from him as much of his reflections upon the times and the service as you can."
The communications between General Washington and the secretary of war appear to have been full and unreserved. The impressions of the former respecting the critical and perilous situation of his country had previously determined him to yield to the general desire, and accept the commission offered him, provided he could be permitted to select for the high departments of the army, and especially for the military staff, those in whom he could place the greatest confidence. Being assured that there was every reason to believe his wishes in this respect would not be thwarted, he gave to the secretary the arrangement which he would recommend for the principal stations in the army; and, on the 13th of July, addressed the following letter to the President.
[Footnote 57: The following is the list of generals, and of the military staff.
Alexander Hamilton, Inspector.
Charles C. Pinckney, } Henry Knox, or, if either refuses } Major Generals. Henry Lee. }
Henry Lee (if not Major General) } John Brooks, } William S. Smith, or } Brigadiers. John E. Howard. }
Edward Hand, or } Jonathan Dayton, or } Adjutant General. William S. Smith. }
Edward Carrington, Quarter Master General. James Craik, Director of the Hospital.]
"I had the honour, on the evening of the 11th instant, to receive from the hands of the secretary at war, your favour of the seventh, announcing that you had, with the advice and consent of the senate, appointed me Lieutenant General and Commander-in-chief of the armies raised or to be raised for the service of the United States.
"I can not express how greatly affected I am at this new proof of public confidence, and at the highly flattering manner in which you have been pleased to make the communication. At the same time, I must not conceal from you my earnest wish that the choice had fallen upon a man less declined in years, and better qualified to encounter the usual vicissitudes of war.
"You know, sir, what calculations I had made relative to the probable course of events on my retiring from office, and the determination, with which I had consoled myself, of closing the remnant of my days in my present peaceful abode. You will therefore be at no loss to conceive and appreciate the sensations I must have experienced, to bring my mind to any conclusion that would pledge me, at so late a period of life, to leave scenes I sincerely love, to enter upon the boundless field of public action, incessant trouble, and high responsibility.
"It was not possible for me to remain ignorant of, or indifferent to recent transactions. The conduct of the Directory of France towards our country; their insidious hostility to its government; their various practices to withdraw the affections of the people from it; the evident tendency of their arts, and those of their agents, to countenance and invigorate opposition; their disregard of solemn treaties and the laws of nations; their war upon our defenceless commerce; their treatment of our ministers of peace; and their demands, amounting to tribute, could not fail to excite in me sentiments corresponding with those my countrymen have so generally expressed in their affectionate addresses to you.
"Believe me, sir, no man can more cordially approve the wise and prudent measures of your administration. They ought to inspire universal confidence, and will no doubt, combined with the state of things, call from congress such laws and means as will enable you to meet the full force and extent of the crisis.
"Satisfied, therefore, that you have sincerely wished and endeavoured to avert war, and exhausted to the last drop the cup of reconciliation, we can, with pure hearts, appeal to heaven for the justice of our cause, and may confidently trust the final result to that kind Providence who has heretofore, and so often, signally favoured the people of the United States.
"Thinking in this manner, and feeling how incumbent it is upon every person of every description to contribute, at all times, to his country's welfare, and especially in a moment like the present, when every thing we hold dear and sacred is so seriously threatened, I have finally determined to accept the commission of Commander-in-chief of the armies of the United States, with the reserve only,—that I shall not be called into the field until the army is in a situation to require my presence, or it becomes indispensable by the urgency of circumstances.
"In making this reservation, I beg it to be understood that I do not mean to withhold any assistance to arrange and organize the army, which you may think I can afford. I take the liberty also to mention that I must decline having my acceptance considered as drawing after it any immediate charge upon the public, or that I can receive any emoluments annexed to the appointment before I am in a situation to incur expense."
From this period, General Washington intermingled the cares and attentions of office with his agricultural pursuits. His solicitude respecting the organization of an army which he might possibly be required to lead against an enemy the most formidable in the world, was too strong to admit of his being inattentive to its arrangements. Yet he never did believe that an invasion of the United States would actually take place. His conviction that it was not the interest of France to wage an unprovoked war with America, and that the hostile measures which the executive Directory had adopted originated in the opinion that those measures would overthrow the administration, and place power in the hands of those who had uniformly supported all the pretensions of the French republic, remained unshaken. As a necessary consequence of this conviction, he was persuaded that the indignation which this system had excited, would effect its change. The only circumstance that weakened this hope, arose from the persevering opposition which was still maintained in congress, and from the evidence which was daily afforded that those party animosities, to which he ascribed the present dangerous crisis, were far from being healed. Those who had embraced the cause of France in the controversy between that nation and the United States, had been overwhelmed by a flood of testimony which silenced them for a time, but which weakened them more in appearance than in reality. They were visibly recovering both strength and confidence. It is not therefore wonderful that General Washington should have expressed himself more freely than had been his custom, respecting American parties, and that he should have exerted an influence which he had not been in the habit of employing, to induce men whose talents he respected, but who had declined political life, to enter into the national and state legislatures.
Events soon demonstrated that he had not calculated unreasonably on the effects of the spirit manifested by his country. Although America, supplicating for peace, had been spurned with contempt; although the executive Directory had rejected with insult her repeated and sincere prayers to be permitted to make explanations, and had haughtily demanded a concession of their arrogant and unfounded claims or the advance of pecuniary aids, as a preliminary to negotiation;—America, in arms, was treated with some respect. Indirect pacific overtures were made, and a willingness on the part of France, to accommodate the existing differences on reasonable terms, was communicated.
The President, truly solicitous to restore that harmony and good understanding which the United States had laboured so incessantly and so sincerely to preserve with their ancient ally, caught at the overtures which were indirectly made, and again appointed three envoys extraordinary and ministers plenipotentiary to the French republic. These gentlemen found the government in the hands of a person who had taken no part in those transactions which had embroiled the two countries, and who entered into negotiations with them which terminated in the amicable adjustment of differences.
General Washington did not live to witness the restoration of peace.
[Sidenote: His death.]
On Friday the 13th of December, while attending to some improvements upon his estate, he was exposed to a light rain, by which his neck and hair became wet. Not apprehending danger from this circumstance, he passed the afternoon in his usual manner; but, in the night, was seized with an inflammatory affection of the windpipe. The disease commenced with a violent ague, accompanied with some pain in the upper and fore part of the throat, a sense of stricture in the same part, a cough, and a difficult rather than a painful deglutition, which were soon succeeded by fever, and a quick and laborious respiration.
Believing bloodletting to be necessary, he procured a bleeder who took from his arm twelve or fourteen ounces of blood, but he would not permit a messenger to be despatched for his family physician until the appearance of day. About eleven in the morning Doctor Craik arrived; and perceiving the extreme danger of the case, requested that two consulting physicians should be immediately sent for. The utmost exertions of medical skill were applied in vain. The powers of life were manifestly yielding to the force of the disorder; speaking, which was painful from the beginning, became almost impracticable: respiration became more and more contracted and imperfect, until half past eleven on Saturday night; when, retaining the full possession of his intellect, he expired without a struggle.
Believing at the commencement of his complaint, as well as through every succeeding stage of it, that its conclusion would be mortal, he submitted to the exertions made for his recovery, rather as a duty, than from any expectation of their efficacy. Some hours before his death, after repeated efforts to be understood, he succeeded in expressing a desire that he might be permitted to die without interruption. After it became impossible to get any thing down his throat, he undressed himself and went to bed, there to die. To his friend and physician, Doctor Craik, who sat on his bed, and took his head in his lap, he said with difficulty, "Doctor, I am dying, and have been dying for a long time, but I am not afraid to die."
During the short period of his illness he economized his time, in arranging with the utmost serenity those few concerns which required his attention; and anticipated his approaching dissolution with every demonstration of that equanimity, for which his life was so uniformly, and singularly, conspicuous.
The deep and wide spreading grief occasioned by this melancholy event, assembled a great concourse of people for the purpose of paying the last tribute of respect to the first of Americans. His body, attended by military honours and the ceremonies of religion, was deposited in the family vault at Mount Vernon, on Wednesday, the 18th of December.
So short was his illness that, at the seat of government, the intelligence of his death preceded that of his indisposition. It was first communicated by a passenger in the stage to an acquaintance whom he met in the street, and the report quickly reached the house of representatives which was then in session. The utmost dismay and affliction was displayed for a few minutes; after which a member stated in his place, the melancholy information which had been received. This information he said was not certain, but there was too much reason to believe it true.
"After receiving intelligence," he added, "of a national calamity so heavy and afflicting, the house of representatives can be but ill fitted for public business." He therefore moved an adjournment. Both houses adjourned until the next day.
On the succeeding day, as soon as the orders were read, the same member addressed the chair in the following terms:
"The melancholy event which was yesterday announced with doubt, has been rendered but too certain. Our WASHINGTON is no more! the hero, the patriot, and the sage of America;—the man on whom, in times of danger, every eye was turned, and all hopes were placed,—lives now only in his own great actions, and in the hearts of an affectionate and afflicted people.
"If, sir, it had even not been usual openly to testify respect for the memory of those whom heaven has selected as its instruments for dispensing good to man, yet, such has been the uncommon worth, and such the extraordinary incidents which have marked the life of him whose loss we all deplore, that the whole American nation, impelled by the same feelings, would call, with one voice, for a public manifestation of that sorrow which is so deep and so universal.
"More than any other individual, and as much as to one individual was possible, has he contributed to found this our wide spreading empire, and to give to the western world independence and freedom.
"Having effected the great object for which he was placed at the head of our armies, we have seen him convert the sword into the ploughshare, and sink the soldier into the citizen.
"When the debility of our federal system had become manifest, and the bonds which connected this vast continent were dissolving, we have seen him the chief of those patriots who formed for us a constitution which, by preserving the union, will, I trust, substantiate and perpetuate those blessings which our revolution had promised to bestow.
"In obedience to the general voice of his country calling him to preside over a great people, we have seen him once more quit the retirement he loved, and, in a season more stormy and tempestuous than war itself, with calm and wise determination, pursue the true interests of the nation, and contribute, more than any other could contribute, to the establishment of that system of policy, which will, I trust, yet preserve our peace, our honour, and our independence.
"Having been twice unanimously chosen the chief magistrate of a free people, we have seen him, at a time when his re-election with universal suffrage could not be doubted, afford to the world a rare instance of moderation, by withdrawing from his high station to the peaceful walks of private life.
"However the public confidence may change, and the public affections fluctuate with respect to others, with respect to him, they have, in war and in peace, in public and in private life, been as steady as his own firm mind, and as constant as his own exalted virtues.
"Let us then, Mr. Speaker, pay the last tribute of respect and affection to our departed friend. Let the grand council of the nation display those sentiments which the nation feels. For this purpose I hold in my hand some resolutions which I take the liberty of offering to the house."
The resolutions, after a preamble stating the death of General Washington, were in the following terms.
[Footnote 58: These resolutions were prepared by General Lee, who happening not to be in his place when the melancholy intelligence was received and first mentioned in the house, placed them in the hands of the member who moved them.]
"Resolved, that this house will wait on the President in condolence of this mournful event.
"Resolved, that the speaker's chair be shrouded with black, and that the members and officers of the house wear black during the session.
"Resolved, that a committee, in conjunction with one from the senate, be appointed to consider on the most suitable manner of paying honour to the memory of the MAN, first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his fellow citizens."
Immediately after the passage of these resolutions, a written message was received from the President, accompanying a letter from Mr. Lear, which he said, "will inform you that it had pleased Divine Providence to remove from this life our excellent fellow citizen, GEORGE WASHINGTON, by the purity of his life, and a long series of services to his country, rendered illustrious through the world. It remains for an affectionate and grateful people, in whose hearts he can never die, to pay suitable honour to his memory."
To the speaker and members of the house of representatives who waited on him in pursuance of the resolution which has been mentioned, he expressed the same deep-felt and affectionate respect "for the most illustrious and beloved personage America had ever produced."
The senate, on this melancholy occasion, addressed to the President the following letter:
"The senate of the United States respectfully take leave, sir, to express to you their deep regret for the loss their country sustains in the death of General GEORGE WASHINGTON.
"This event, so distressing to all our fellow citizens, must be peculiarly heavy to you who have long been associated with him in deeds of patriotism. Permit us, sir, to mingle our tears with yours. On this occasion it is manly to weep. To lose such a man, at such a crisis, is no common calamity to the world. Our country mourns a father. The Almighty disposer of human events has taken from us our greatest benefactor and ornament. It becomes us to submit with reverence, to HIM who 'maketh darkness his pavilion.'
"With patriotic pride we review the life of our WASHINGTON, and compare him with those of other countries who have been pre-eminent in fame. Ancient and modern names are diminished before him. Greatness and guilt have too often been allied; but his fame is whiter than it is brilliant. The destroyers of nations stood abashed at the majesty of his virtues. It reproved the intemperance of their ambition, and darkened the splendour of victory. The scene is closed,—and we are no longer anxious lest misfortune should sully his glory; he has traveled on to the end of his journey, and carried with him an increasing weight of honour: he has deposited it safely where misfortune can not tarnish it; where malice can not blast it. Favoured of heaven, he departed without exhibiting the weakness of humanity; magnanimous in death, the darkness of the grave could not obscure his brightness.
"Such was the man whom we deplore. Thanks to God, his glory is consummated. Washington yet lives on earth in his spotless example—his spirit is in heaven.
"Let his countrymen consecrate the memory of the heroic general, the patriotic statesman, and the virtuous sage: let them teach their children never to forget that the fruits of his labours and his example are their inheritance."
To this address the President returned the following answer: "I receive, with the most respectful and affectionate sentiments, in this impressive address, the obliging expressions of your regret for the loss our country has sustained in the death of her most esteemed, beloved, and admired citizen.
"In the multitude of my thoughts and recollections on this melancholy event, you will permit me to say that I have seen him in the days of adversity, in some of the scenes of his deepest distress and most trying perplexities. I have also attended him in his highest elevation and most prosperous felicity, with uniform admiration of his wisdom, moderation, and constancy.
"Among all our original associates in that memorable league of this continent in 1774, which first expressed the SOVEREIGN WILL OF A FREE NATION IN AMERICA, he was the only one remaining in the general government. Although with a constitution more enfeebled than his, at an age when he thought it necessary to prepare for retirement, I feel myself alone, bereaved of my last brother; yet I derive a strong consolation from the unanimous disposition which appears in all ages and classes to mingle their sorrows with mine on this common calamity to the world.
"The life of our WASHINGTON can not suffer by a comparison with those of other countries who have been most celebrated and exalted by fame. The attributes and decorations of royalty could only have served to eclipse the majesty of those virtues which made him, from being a modest citizen, a more resplendent luminary. Misfortune, had he lived, could hereafter have sullied his glory only with those superficial minds who, believing that characters and actions are marked by success alone, rarely deserve to enjoy it. Malice could never blast his honour, and Envy made him a singular exception to her universal rule. For himself, he had lived long enough to life and to glory:—for his fellow citizens, if their prayers could have been answered, he would have been immortal: for me, his departure is at a most unfortunate moment. Trusting, however, in the wise and righteous dominion of Providence over the passions of men, and the results of their councils and actions, as well as over their lives, nothing remains for me but humble resignation.
"His example is now complete; and it will teach wisdom and virtue to magistrates, citizens, and men, not only in the present age, but in future generations, as long as our history shall be read. If a Trajan found a Pliny, a Marcus Aurelius can never want biographers, eulogists, or historians."
The joint committee which had been appointed to devise the mode by which the nation should express its feelings on this melancholy occasion, reported the following resolutions:
"That a marble monument be erected by the United States at the city of Washington, and that the family of General Washington be requested to permit his body to be deposited under it; and that the monument be so designed as to commemorate the great events of his military and political life.
"That there be a funeral procession from congress hall to the German Lutheran church, in memory of General Washington, on Thursday, the 26th instant, and that an oration be prepared at the request of congress, to be delivered before both houses on that day; and that the president of the senate, and speaker of the house of representatives, be desired to request one of the members of congress to prepare and deliver the same.
"That it be recommended to the people of the United States to wear crape on the left arm as a mourning for thirty days.
"That the President of the United States be requested to direct a copy of these resolutions to be transmitted to Mrs. Washington, assuring her of the profound respect congress will ever bear to her person and character, of their condolence on the late affecting dispensation of Providence, and entreating her assent to the interment of the remains of General Washington in the manner expressed in the first resolution.
"That the President be requested to issue his proclamation, notifying to the people throughout the United States the recommendation contained in the third resolution."
These resolutions passed both houses unanimously, and those which would admit of immediate execution were carried into effect. The whole nation appeared in mourning. The funeral procession was grand and solemn, and the eloquent oration, which was delivered on the occasion by General Lee, was heard with profound attention and with deep interest.
Throughout the United States, similar marks of affliction were exhibited. In every part of the continent funeral orations were delivered, and the best talents of the nation were devoted to an expression of the nation's grief.
To the letter of the President which transmitted to Mrs. Washington the resolutions of congress, and of which his secretary was the bearer, that lady answered, "Taught by the great example which I have so long had before me, never to oppose my private wishes to the public will, I must consent to the request made by congress which you have had the goodness to transmit to me;—and in doing this, I need not, I can not say what a sacrifice of individual feeling I make to a sense of public duty."
The monument, however, has not been erected. That the great events of the political as well as military life of General Washington should be commemorated, could not be pleasing to those who had condemned, and who continued to condemn, the whole course of his administration. This resolution, although it passed unanimously, had many enemies. That party which had long constituted the opposition, and which, though the minority for the moment, nearly divided the house of representatives, declared its preference for the equestrian statue which had been voted by congress at the close of the war. The division between a statue and a monument was so nearly equal, that the session passed away without an appropriation for either. The public feelings soon subsided, and those who possessed the ascendancy over the public sentiment employed their influence to draw odium on the men who favoured a monument; to represent that measure as a part of a general system to waste the public money; and to impress the idea that the only proper monument to the memory of a meritorious citizen, was that which the people would erect in their affections.