COMMANDER IN CHIEF OF THE
DURING THE WAR WHICH ESTABLISHED THE INDEPENDENCE OF HIS COUNTRY, AND
COMPILED UNDER THE INSPECTION OF
THE HONOURABLE BUSHROD WASHINGTON,
BEQUEATHED TO HIM BY HIS DECEASED RELATIVE, AND NOW IN POSSESSION OF THE AUTHOR.
TO WHICH IS PREFIXED,
CONTAINING A COMPENDIOUS VIEW OF THE COLONIES PLANTED BY THE ENGLISH ON THE
CONTINENT OF NORTH AMERICA,
FROM THEIR SETTLEMENT TO THE COMMENCEMENT OF THAT WAR WHICH TERMINATED IN THEIR
BY JOHN MARSHALL.
THE CITIZENS' GUILD OF WASHINGTON'S BOYHOOD HOME FREDERICKSBURG, VA.
Printed in the U.S.A.
[Illustration: President Washington
From the portrait by John Vanderlyn, in the Capitol at Washington
This full-length portrait of our First President is the work of an artist to whom Napoleon I awarded a gold medal for his "Marius Among the Ruins of Carthage," and another of whose masterpieces, "Ariadne in Naxos," is pronounced one of the finest nudes in the history of American art. For Vanderlyn sat many other notable public men, including Monroe, Madison, Calhoun, Clinton, Zachary Taylor and Aaron Burr, who was his patron and whose portrait by Vanderlyn hangs in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Nevertheless, Vanderlyn failed in achieving the success his genius merited, and he once declared bitterly that "no one but a professional quack can live in America." Poverty paralyzed his energies, and in 1852, old and discouraged he retired to his native town of Kingston, New York, so poor that he had to borrow twenty-five cents to pay the expressage of his trunk. Obtaining a bed at the local hotel, he was found dead in it the next morning, in his seventy-seventh year.]
G. Washington again unanimously elected President.... War between Great Britain and France.... Queries of the President respecting the conduct to be adopted by the American government.... Proclamation of neutrality.... Arrival of Mr. Genet as minister from France.... His conduct.... Illegal proceedings of the French cruisers.... Opinions of the cabinet.... State of parties.... Democratic societies.... Genet calculates upon the partialities of the American people for France, and openly insults their government.... Rules laid down by the executive to be observed in the ports of the United States in relation to the powers at war.... The President requests the recall of Genet.... British order of 8th of June, 1793.... Decree of the national convention relative to neutral commerce.
Meeting of congress.... President's speech.... His message on the foreign relations of the United States.... Report of the Secretary of State on the commerce of the United States.... He resigns.... Is succeeded by Mr. Randolph.... Mr. Madison's resolutions founded on the above report.... Debate thereon.... Debates on the subject of a navy.... An embargo law.... Mission of Mr. Jay to Great Britain.... Inquiry into the conduct of the Secretary of the Treasury, terminates honourably to him.... Internal taxes.... Congress adjourns.
Genet recalled.... Is succeeded by Mr. Fauchet.... Gouverneur Morris recalled, and is succeeded by Mr. Monroe.... Kentucky remonstrance.... Intemperate resolutions of the people of that state.... General Wayne defeats the Indians on the Miamis.... Insurrection in the western parts of Pennsylvania.... Quelled by the prompt and vigorous measures of the government.... Meeting of Congress.... President's speech.... Democratic societies.... Resignation of Colonel Hamilton.... Is succeeded by Mr. Wolcott.... Resignation of General Knox.... Is succeeded by Colonel Pickering.... Treaty between the United States and Great Britain.... Conditionally ratified by the President.... The treaty unpopular.... Mr. Randolph resigns.... Is succeeded by Colonel Pickering.... Colonel M'Henry appointed secretary at war.... Charge against the President rejected..... Treaty with the Indians north-west of the Ohio.... With Algiers.... With Spain.... Meeting of congress.... President's speech.... Mr. Adet succeeds Mr. Fauchet..... The house of representatives call upon the President for papers relating to the treaty with Great Britain.... He declines sending them.... Debates upon the treaty making power.... Upon the bill for making appropriations to carry into execution the treaty with Great Britain.... Congress adjourns.... The President endeavours to procure the liberation of Lafayette.
Letters 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.
G. Washington again unanimously elected President.... War between Great Britain and France.... Queries of the President respecting the conduct to be adopted by the American government.... Proclamation of neutrality.... Arrival of Mr. Genet as minister from France.... His conduct.... Illegal proceedings of the French cruisers.... Opinions of the cabinet.... State of parties.... Democratic societies.... Genet calculates upon the partialities of the American people for France, and openly insults their government.... Rules laid down by the executive to be observed in the ports of the United States in relation to the powers at war.... The President requests the recall of Genet.... British order of 8th of June, 1793.... Decree of the national convention relative to neutral commerce.
The term for which the President and Vice President had been elected being about to expire on the third of March, the attention of the public had been directed to the choice of persons who should fill those high offices for the ensuing four years. Respecting the President, but one opinion prevailed. From various motives, all parties concurred in desiring that the present chief magistrate should continue to afford his services to his country. Yielding to the weight of the representations made to him from various quarters, General Washington had been prevailed upon to withhold a declaration, he had at one time purposed to make, of his determination to retire from political life.
Respecting the person who should fill the office of Vice President, the public was divided. The profound statesman who had been called to the duties of that station, had drawn upon himself a great degree of obloquy, by some political tracts, in which he had laboured to maintain the proposition that a balance in government was essential to the preservation of liberty. In these disquisitions, he was supposed by his opponents to have discovered sentiments in favour of distinct orders in society; and, although he had spoken highly of the constitution of the United States, it was imagined that his balance could be maintained only by hereditary classes. He was also understood to be friendly to the system of finance which had been adopted; and was believed to be among the few who questioned the durability of the French republic. His great services, and acknowledged virtues, were therefore disregarded; and a competitor was sought for among those who had distinguished themselves in the opposition. The choice was directed from Mr. Jefferson by a constitutional restriction on the power of the electors, which would necessarily deprive him of the vote to be given by Virginia. It being necessary to designate some other opponent to Mr. Adams, George Clinton, the governor of New York, was selected for this purpose.
Throughout the war of the revolution, this gentleman had filled the office of chief magistrate of his native state; and, under circumstances of real difficulty, had discharged its duties with a courage, and an energy, which secured the esteem of the Commander-in-chief, and gave him a fair claim to the favour of his country. Embracing afterwards with ardour the system of state supremacy, he had contributed greatly to the rejection of the resolutions for investing congress with the power of collecting an impost on imported goods, and had been conspicuous for his determined hostility to the constitution of the United States. His sentiments respecting the measures of the government were known to concur with those of the minority in congress.
[Sidenote: George Washington again unanimously elected president.]
Both parties seemed confident in their strength; and both made the utmost exertions to insure success. On opening the ballots in the senate chamber, it appeared that the unanimous suffrage of his country had been once more conferred on General Washington, and that Mr. Adams had received a plurality of the votes.
The unceasing endeavours of the executive to terminate the Indian war by a treaty, had at length succeeded with the savages of the Wabash; and, through the intervention of the Six Nations, those of the Miamis had also been induced to consent to a conference to be held in the course of the ensuing spring. Though probability was against the success of this attempt to restore peace, all offensive operations, on the part of the United States, were still farther suspended. The Indians did not entirely abstain from hostilities; and the discontents of the western people were in no small degree increased by this temporary prohibition of all incursions into the country of their enemy. In Georgia, where a desire to commence hostilities against the southern Indians had been unequivocally manifested, this restraint increased the irritation against the administration.
The Indian war was becoming an object of secondary magnitude. The critical and irritable state of things in France began so materially to affect the United States, as to require an exertion of all the prudence, and all the firmness, of the government. The 10th of August, 1792, was succeeded in that nation by such a state of anarchy, and by scenes of so much blood and horror; the nation was understood to be so divided with respect to its future course; and the republican party was threatened by such a formidable external force; that there was much reason to doubt whether the fallen monarch would be finally deposed, or reinstated with a greater degree of splendour and power than the constitution just laid in ruins, had assigned to him. That, in the latter event, any partialities which might be manifested towards the intermediate possessors of authority, would be recollected with indignation, could not be questioned by an attentive observer of the vindictive spirit of parties;—a spirit which the deeply tragic scenes lately exhibited, could not fail to work up to its highest possible pitch. The American minister at Paris, finding himself in a situation not expected by his government, sought to pursue a circumspect line of conduct, which should in no respect compromise the United States. The executive council of France, disappointed at the coldness which that system required, communicated their dissatisfaction to their minister at Philadelphia. At the same time, Mr. Morris made full representations of every transaction to his government, and requested explicit instructions for the regulation of his future conduct.
[Footnote 1: The day on which the palace of the Tuilleries was stormed and the royal government subverted.]
The administration entertained no doubt of the propriety of recognizing the existing authority of France, whatever form it might assume. That every nation possessed a right to govern itself according to its own will, to change its institutions at discretion, and to transact its business through whatever agents it might think proper, were stated to Mr. Morris to be principles on which the American government itself was founded, and the application of which could be denied to no other people. The payment of the debt, so far as it was to be made in Europe, might be suspended only until the national convention should authorize some power to sign acquittances for the monies received; and the sums required for St. Domingo would be immediately furnished. These payments would exceed the instalments which had fallen due; and the utmost punctuality would be observed in future. These instructions were accompanied with assurances that the government would omit no opportunity of convincing the French people of its cordial wish to serve them; and with a declaration that all circumstances seemed to destine the two nations for the most intimate connexion with each other. It was also pressed upon Mr. Morris to seize every occasion of conciliating the affections of France to the United States, and of placing the commerce between the two countries on the best possible footing.
[Footnote 2: With this letter were addressed two others to the ministers at London and Paris respectively, stating the interest taken by the President and people of the United States in the fate of the Marquis de Lafayette. This gentleman was declared a traitor by France, and was imprisoned by Prussia. The ministers of the United States were to avail themselves of every opportunity of sounding the way towards his liberation, which they were to endeavour to obtain by informal solicitations; but, if formal ones should be necessary, they were to watch the moment when they might be urged with the best prospect of success. This letter was written at the sole instance of the President.]
The feelings of the President were in perfect unison with the sentiments expressed in this letter. His attachment to the French nation was as strong, as consistent with a due regard to the interests of his own; and his wishes for its happiness were as ardent, as was compatible with the duties of a chief magistrate to the state over which he presided. Devoted to the principles of real liberty, and approving unequivocally the republican form of government, he hoped for a favourable result from the efforts which were making to establish that form, by the great ally of the United States; but was not so transported by those efforts, as to involve his country in their issue; or totally to forget that those aids which constituted the basis of these partial feelings, were furnished by the family whose fall was the source of triumph to a large portion of his fellow citizens.
He therefore still preserved the fixed purpose of maintaining the neutrality of the United States, however general the war might be in Europe; and his zeal for the revolution did not assume so ferocious a character as to silence the dictates of humanity, or of friendship.
Not much time elapsed before the firmness of this resolution was put to the test.
[Sidenote: War between Great Britain and France.]
Early in April, the declaration of war made by France against Great Britain and Holland reached the United States. This event restored full vivacity to a flame, which a peace of ten years had not been able to extinguish. A great majority of the American people deemed it criminal to remain unconcerned spectators of a conflict between their ancient enemy and republican France. The feeling upon this occasion was almost universal. Men of all parties partook of it. Disregarding totally the circumstances which led to the rupture, except the order which had been given to the French minister to leave London, and disregarding equally the fact that actual hostilities were first commenced by France, the war was confidently and generally pronounced a war of aggression on the part of Great Britain, undertaken with the sole purpose of imposing a monarchical government on the French people. The few who did not embrace these opinions, and they were certainly very few, were held up as objects of public detestation; and were calumniated as the tools of Britain, and the satellites of despotism.
Yet the disposition to engage in the war, was far from being general. The inclination of the public led to a full indulgence of the most extravagant partiality; but not many were willing to encounter the consequences which that indulgence would infallibly produce. The situation of America was precisely that, in which the wisdom and foresight of a prudent and enlightened government, was indispensably necessary to prevent the nation from inconsiderately precipitating itself into calamities, which its reflecting judgment would avoid.
As soon as intelligence of the rupture between France and Britain was received in the United States, indications were given in some of the seaports, of a disposition to engage in the unlawful business of privateering on the commerce of the belligerent powers. The President was firmly determined to suppress these practices, and immediately requested the attention of the heads of departments to this interesting subject.
[Sidenote: Queries put by the president to his cabinet in relation to the conduct proper to be adopted by the American government in consequence of this event.]
As the new and difficult situation in which the United States were placed suggested many delicate inquiries, he addressed a circular letter to the cabinet ministers, inclosing for their consideration a well digested series of questions, the answers to which would form a complete system by which to regulate the conduct of the executive in the arduous situations which were approaching.
[Footnote 3: See note No. I. at the end of the volume.]
These queries, with some of the answers of them, though submitted only to the cabinet, found their way to the leading members of the opposition; and were among the unacknowledged but operating pieces of testimony, on which the charge against the administration, of cherishing dispositions unfriendly to the French republic, was founded. In taking a view of the whole ground, points certainly occurred, and were submitted to the consideration of the cabinet, on which neither the chief magistrate nor his ministers felt any doubt. But the introduction of questions relative to these points, among others with which they were intimately connected, would present a more full view of the subject, and was incapable of producing any mischievous effect, while they were confined to those for whom alone they were intended.
In the meeting of the heads of departments and the attorney general, which was held in consequence of this letter, it was unanimously agreed, that a proclamation ought to issue, forbidding the citizens of the United States to take part in any hostilities on the seas, with, or against, any of the belligerent powers; warning them against carrying to any of those powers articles deemed contraband according to the modern usages of nations; and enjoining them from all acts inconsistent with the duties of a friendly nation towards those at war.
With the same unanimity, the President was advised to receive a minister from the republic of France; but, on the question respecting a qualification to his reception, a division was perceived. The secretary of state and the attorney general were of opinion, that no cause existed for departing in the present instance from the usual mode of acting on such occasions. The revolution in France, they conceived, had produced no change in the relations between the two nations; nor was there any thing in the alteration of government, or in the character of the war, which would impair the right of France to demand, or weaken the duty of the United States faithfully to comply with the engagements which had been solemnly formed.
The secretaries of the treasury, and of war, held a different opinion. Admitting in its fullest latitude the right of a nation to change its political institutions according to its own will, they denied its right to involve other nations, absolutely and unconditionally, in the consequences of the changes which it may think proper to make. They maintained the right of a nation to absolve itself from the obligations even of real treaties, when such a change of circumstances takes place in the internal situation of the other contracting party, as so essentially to alter the existing state of things, that it may with good faith be pronounced to render a continuance of the connexion which results from them, disadvantageous or dangerous.
They reviewed the most prominent of those transactions which had recently taken place in France, and noticed the turbulence, the fury, and the injustice with which they were marked. The Jacobin club at Paris, whose influence was well understood, had even gone so far, previous to the meeting of the convention, as to enter into measures with the avowed object of purging that body of those persons, favourers of royalty, who might have escaped the attention of the primary assemblies. This review was taken, to show that the course of the revolution had been attended with circumstances which militate against a full conviction of its having been brought to its present stage, by such a free, regular, and deliberate act of the nation, as ought to silence all scruples about the validity of what had been done. They appeared to doubt whether the present possessors of power ought to be considered as having acquired it with the real consent of France, or as having seized it by violence;—whether the existing system could be considered as permanent, or merely temporary.
They were therefore of opinion, not that the treaties should be annulled or absolutely suspended, but that the United States should reserve, for future consideration and discussion, the question whether the operation of those treaties ought not to be deemed temporarily and provisionally suspended. Should this be the decision of the government, they thought it due to a spirit of friendly and candid procedure, in the most conciliating terms, to apprize the expected minister of this determination.
On the questions relative to the application of the clause of guarantee to the existing war, some diversity of sentiment also prevailed. The secretary of state and the attorney general conceived, that no necessity for deciding thereon existed, while the secretaries of the treasury, and of war, were of opinion that the treaty of alliance was plainly defensive, and that the clause of guarantee did not apply to a war which, having been commenced by France, must be considered as offensive on the part of that power.
Against convening congress, the opinion appears to have been unanimous.
The cabinet being thus divided on an important part of the system which, in the present critical posture of affairs, ought to be adopted by the executive, the President signified his desire that the ministers would respectively state to him in writing the opinions they had formed, together with the reasoning and authorities by which those opinions were supported.
The written arguments which were presented on this occasion, while they attest the labour, and reflect honour on the talents of those by whom they were formed, and evince the equal sincerity and zeal with which the opinions on each side were advanced, demonstrate an opposition of sentiment respecting the French revolution, which threatened to shed its influence on all measures connected with that event, and to increase the discord which already existed in the cabinet.
So far as respected the reception of a minister from the French republic without qualifying that act by any explanations, and the continuing obligation of the treaties, the President appears to have decided in favour of the opinions given by the secretary of state and the attorney general.
[Sidenote: Proclamation of neutrality.]
The proclamation of neutrality which was prepared by the attorney general, in conformity with the principles which had been adopted, was laid before the cabinet; and, being approved, was signed by the President, and ordered to be published.
This measure derives importance from the consideration, that it was the commencement of that system to which the American government afterwards inflexibly adhered, and to which much of the national prosperity is to be ascribed. It is not less important in another view. Being at variance with the prejudices, the feelings, and the passions of a large portion of the society, and being founded on no previous proceedings of the legislature, it presented the first occasion, which was thought a fit one, for openly assaulting a character, around which the affections of the people had thrown an armour theretofore deemed sacred, and for directly criminating the conduct of the President himself. It was only by opposing passions to passions, by bringing the feeling in favour of France, into conflict with those in favour of the chief magistrate, that the enemies of the administration could hope to obtain the victory.
For a short time, the opponents of this measure treated it with some degree of delicacy. The opposition prints occasionally glanced at the executive; considered all governments, including that of the United States, as naturally hostile to the liberty of the people; and ascribed to this disposition, the combination of European governments against France, and the apathy with which this combination was contemplated by the executive. At the same time, the most vehement declamations were published, for the purpose of inflaming the resentments of the people against Britain; of enhancing the obligations of America to France; of confirming the opinions, that the coalition of European monarchs was directed, not less against the United States, than against that power to which its hostility was avowed, and that those who did not avow this sentiment were the friends of that coalition, and equally the enemies of America and France.
These publications, in the first instance, sufficiently bitter, quickly assumed a highly increased degree of acrimony.
As soon as the commotions which succeeded the deposition of Louis XVI. had, in some degree, subsided, the attention of the French government was directed to the United States, and the resolution was taken to recall the minister who had been appointed by the king; and to replace him with one who might be expected to enter, with more enthusiasm, into the views of the republic.
[Footnote 4: See note No. II. at the end of the volume.]
The citizen Genet, a gentleman of considerable talents, and of an ardent temper, was selected for this purpose.
The letters he brought to the executive of the United States, and his instructions, which he occasionally communicated, were, in a high degree, flattering to the nation, and decently respectful to its government. But Mr. Genet was also furnished with private instructions, which the course of subsequent events tempted him to publish. These indicate that, if the American executive should not be found sufficiently compliant with the views of France, the resolution had been taken to employ with the people of the United States the same policy which was so successfully used with those of Europe; and thus to affect an object which legitimate negotiations might fail to accomplish.
[Sidenote: Arrival of Mr. Genet as minister from France.]
Mr. Genet possessed many qualities which were peculiarly adapted to the objects of his mission; but he seems to have been betrayed by the flattering reception which was given him, and by the universal fervour expressed for his republic, into a too speedy disclosure of his intentions.
[Sidenote: His conduct.]
On the eighth of April he arrived, not at Philadelphia, but at Charleston, in South Carolina, a port whose contiguity to the West Indies would give it peculiar convenience as a resort for privateers. He was received by the governor of that state, and by its citizens, with an enthusiasm well calculated to dissipate every doubt he might previously have entertained, concerning the dispositions on which he was to operate. At this place he continued for several days, receiving extravagant marks of public attachment, during which time, he undertook to authorize the fitting and arming of vessels in that port, enlisting men, and giving commissions to cruise and commit hostilities on nations with whom the United States were at peace. The captures made by these cruisers were brought into port, and the consuls of France were assuming, under the authority of Mr. Genet, to hold courts of admiralty on them, to try, condemn, and authorize their sale.
From Charleston, Mr. Genet proceeded by land to Philadelphia, receiving on his journey, at the different towns through which he passed, such marks of enthusiastic attachment as had never before been lavished on a foreign minister. On the 16th of May, he arrived at the seat of government, preceded by the intelligence of his transactions in South Carolina. This information did not diminish the extravagant transports of joy with which he was welcomed by the great body of the inhabitants. Means had been taken to render his entry pompous and triumphal; and the opposition papers exultingly stated that he was met at Gray's ferry by "crowds who flocked from every avenue of the city, to meet the republican ambassador of an allied nation."
The day succeeding his arrival, he received addresses of congratulation from particular societies, and from the citizens of Philadelphia, who waited on him in a body, in which they expressed their fervent gratitude for the "zealous and disinterested aids," which the French people had furnished to America, unbounded exultation at the success with which their arms had been crowned, and a positive conviction that the safety of the United States depended on the establishment of the republic. The answers to these addresses were well calculated to preserve the idea of a complete fraternity between the two nations; and that their interests were identified.
The day after being thus accredited by the citizens of Philadelphia, he was presented to the President, by whom he was received with frankness, and with expressions of a sincere and cordial regard for his nation. In the conversation which took place on this occasion, Mr. Genet gave the most explicit assurances that, in consequence of the distance of the United States from the theatre of action, and of other circumstances, France did not wish to engage them in the war, but would willingly leave them to pursue their happiness and prosperity in peace. The more ready faith was given to these declarations, because it was believed that France might derive advantages from the neutrality of America, which would be a full equivalent for any services which she could render as a belligerent.
Before the ambassador of the republic had reached the seat of government, a long catalogue of complaints, partly founded on his proceedings in Charleston, had been made by the British minister to the American executive.
This catalogue was composed of the assumptions of sovereignty already mentioned;—assumptions calculated to render America an instrument of hostility to be wielded by France against those powers with which she might be at war.
[Sidenote: Illegal proceedings of the French cruisers.]
These were still further aggravated by the commission of actual hostilities within the territories of the United States. The ship Grange, a British vessel which had been cleared out from Philadelphia, was captured by the French frigate L'Ambuscade within the capes of the Delaware, while on her way to the ocean.
The prizes thus unwarrantly made, being brought within the power of the American government, Mr. Hammond, among other things, demanded a restitution of them.
On many of the points suggested by the conduct of Mr. Genet, and by the memorials of the British minister, it would seem impossible that any difference of opinion could exist among intelligent men, not under the dominion of a blind infatuation. Accordingly it was agreed in the cabinet, without a dissenting voice, that the jurisdiction of every independent nation, within the limits of its own territory, being of a nature to exclude the exercise of any authority therein by a foreign power, the proceedings complained of, not being warranted by any treaty, were usurpations of national sovereignty, and violations of neutral rights, a repetition of which it was the duty of the government to prevent.
It was also agreed that the efficacy of the laws should be tried against those citizens of the United States who had joined in perpetrating the offence.
[Sidenote: Opinions of the Cabinet in relation thereto.]
The question of restitution, except as to the Grange, was more dubious. The secretary of state and the attorney general contended that, if the commissions granted by Mr. Genet were invalid, the captures were totally void, and the courts would adjudge the property to remain in the former owners. In this point of view, therefore, there being a regular remedy at law, it would be irregular for the government to interpose.
If, on the contrary, the commissions were good, then, the captures having been made on the high seas, under a valid commission from a power at war with Great Britain, the original right of the British owner was, by the laws of war, transferred to the captor.
The legal right being in the captor, it could only be taken from him by an act of force, that is to say, of reprisal for the offence committed against the United States in the port of Charleston. Reprisal is a very serious thing, ought always to be preceded by a demand and refusal of satisfaction, is generally considered as an act of war, and never yet failed to produce it in the case of a nation able to make war.
Admitting the case to be of sufficient importance to require reprisal, and to be ripe for that step, the power of taking it was vested by the constitution in congress, not in the executive department of the government.
Of the reparation for the offence committed against the United States, they were themselves the judges, and could not be required by a foreign nation, to demand more than was satisfactory to themselves. By disavowing the act, by taking measures to prevent its repetition, by prosecuting the American citizens who were engaged in it, the United States ought to stand justified with Great Britain; and a demand of further reparation by that power would be a wrong on her part.
The circumstances under which these equipments had been made, in the first moments of the war, before the government could have time to take precautions against them, and its immediate disapprobation of those equipments, must rescue it from every imputation of being accessory to them, and had placed it with the offended, not the offending party.
Those gentlemen were therefore of opinion, that the vessels which had been captured on the high seas, and brought into the United States, by privateers fitted out and commissioned in their ports, ought not to be restored.
The secretaries of the treasury, and of war, were of different opinion. They urged that a neutral, permitting itself to be made an instrument of hostility by one belligerent against another, became thereby an associate in the war. If land or naval armaments might be formed by France within the United States, for the purpose of carrying on expeditions against her enemy, and might return with the spoils they had taken, and prepare new enterprises, it was apparent that a state of war would exist between America and those enemies, of the worst kind for them: since, while the resources of the country were employed in annoying them, the instruments of this annoyance would be occasionally protected from pursuit, by the privileges of an ostensible neutrality. It was easy to see that such a state of things could not be tolerated longer than until it should be perceived.
It being confessedly contrary to the duty of the United States, as a neutral nation, to suffer privateers to be fitted in their ports to annoy the British trade, it seemed to follow that it would comport with their duty, to remedy the injury which may have been sustained, when it is in their power so to do.
That the fact had been committed before the government could provide against it might be an excuse, but not a justification. Every government is responsible for the conduct of all parts of the community over which it presides, and is supposed to possess, at all times, the means of preventing infractions of its duty to foreign nations. In the present instance, the magistracy of the place ought to have prevented them. However valid this excuse might have been, had the privateers expedited from Charleston been sent to the French dominions, there to operate out of the reach of the United States, it could be of no avail when their prizes were brought into the American ports, and the government, thereby, completely enabled to administer a specific remedy for the injury.
Although the commissions, and the captures made under them, were valid as between the parties at war, they were not so as to the United States. For the violation of their rights, they had a claim to reparation, and might reasonably demand, as the reparation to which they were entitled, restitution of the property taken, with or without an apology for the infringement of their sovereignty. This they had a right to demand as a species of reparation consonant with the nature of the injury, and enabling them to do justice to the party in injuring whom they had been made instrumental. It could be no just cause of complaint on the part of the captors that they were required to surrender a property, the means of acquiring which took their origin in a violation of the rights of the United States.
On the other hand, there was a claim on the American government to arrest the effects of the injury or annoyance to which it had been made accessory. To insist therefore on the restitution of the property taken, would be to enforce a right, in order to the performance of a duty.
These commissions, though void as to the United States, being valid as between the parties, the case was not proper for the decision of the courts of justice. The whole was an affair between the governments of the parties concerned, to be settled by reasons of state, not rules of law. It was the case of an infringement of national sovereignty to the prejudice of a third party, in which the government was to demand a reparation, with the double view of vindicating its own rights, and of doing justice to the suffering party.
They, therefore, were of opinion that, in the case stated for their consideration, restitution ought to be made.
On the point respecting which his cabinet was divided, the President took time to deliberate. Those principles on which a concurrence of sentiment had been manifested being considered as settled, the secretary of state was desired to communicate them to the ministers of France and Britain; and circular letters were addressed to the executives of the several states, requiring their co-operation, with force if necessary, in the execution of the rules which were established.
The citizen Genet was much dissatisfied with these decisions of the American government. He thought them contrary to natural right, and subversive of the treaties by which the two nations were connected. In his exposition of these treaties, he claimed, for his own country, all that the two nations were restricted from conceding to others, thereby converting negative limitations into an affirmative grant of privileges to France.
Without noticing a want of decorum in some of the expressions which Mr. Genet had employed, he was informed that the subjects on which his letter treated had, from respect to him, been reconsidered by the executive; but that no cause was perceived for changing the system which had been adopted. He was further informed that, in the opinion of the President, the United States owed it to themselves, and to the nations in their friendship, to expect, as a reparation for the offence of infringing their sovereignty, that the vessels, thus illegally equipped, would depart from their ports.
Mr. Genet was not disposed to acquiesce in these decisions. Adhering to his own construction of the existing treaty, he affected to consider the measures of the American government as infractions of it, which no power in the nation had a right to make, unless the United States in congress assembled should determine that their solemn engagements should no longer be performed. Intoxicated with the sentiments expressed by a great portion of the people, and unacquainted with the firm character of the executive, he seems to have expected that the popularity of his nation would enable him to overthrow that department, or to render it subservient to his views. It is difficult otherwise to account for his persisting to disregard its decisions, and for passages with which his letters abound, such as the following:
"Every obstruction by the government of the United States to the arming of French vessels must be an attempt on the rights of man, upon which repose the independence and laws of the United States; a violation of the ties which unite the people of France and America; and even a manifest contradiction of the system of neutrality of the President; for, in fact, if our merchant vessels, or others, are not allowed to arm themselves, when the French alone are resisting the league of all the tyrants against the liberty of the people, they will be exposed to inevitable ruin in going out of the ports of the United States, which is certainly not the intention of the people of America. Their fraternal voice has resounded from every quarter around me, and their accents are not equivocal. They are pure as the hearts of those by whom they are expressed, and the more they have touched my sensibility, the more they must interest in the happiness of America the nation I represent;—the more I wish, sir, that the federal government should observe, as far as in their power, the public engagements contracted by both nations; and that, by this generous and prudent conduct, they will give at least to the world, the example of a true neutrality, which does not consist in the cowardly abandonment of their friends in the moment when danger menaces them, but in adhering strictly, if they can do no better, to the obligations they have contracted with them. It is by such proceedings that they will render themselves respectable to all the powers; that they will preserve their friends and deserve to augment their numbers."
[Footnote 5: The regulation alluded to as was stated by Mr. Jefferson in reply, did not relate to vessels arming for defence, but to cruisers against the enemies of France.]
A few days previous to the reception of the letter from which the above is an extract, two citizens of the United States, who had been engaged by Mr. Genet in Charleston to cruise in the service of France, were arrested by the civil magistrate, in pursuance of the determination formed by the executive for the prosecution of persons having thus offended against the laws. Mr. Genet demanded their release in the following extraordinary terms:
"I have this moment been informed that two officers in the service of the republic of France, citizen Gideon Henfield and John Singletary, have been arrested on board the privateer of the French republic, the Citizen Genet, and conducted to prison. The crime laid to their charge—the crime which my mind can not conceive, and which my pen almost refuses to state,—is the serving of France, and defending with her children the common glorious cause of liberty.
"Being ignorant of any positive law or treaty which deprives Americans of this privilege, and authorizes officers of police arbitrarily to take mariners in the service of France from on board their vessels, I call upon your intervention, sir, and that of the President of the United States, in order to obtain the immediate releasement of the above mentioned officers, who have acquired, by the sentiments animating them, and by the act of their engagement, anterior to every act to the contrary, the right of French citizens, if they have lost that of American citizens."
This lofty offensive style could not fail to make a deep impression on a mind penetrated with a just sense of those obligations by which the chief magistrate is bound to guard the dignity of his government, and to take care that his nation be not degraded in his person. Yet, in no single instance, did the administration, in its communications with Mr. Genet, permit itself to be betrayed into the use of one intemperate expression. The firmness with which the extravagant pretensions of that gentleman were resisted, proceeding entirely from a sense of duty and conviction of right, was unaccompanied with any marks of that resentment which his language and his conduct were alike calculated to inspire.
[Sidenote: State of parties.]
Mr. Genet appears to have been prevented from acquiescing in a line of conduct thus deliberately adopted and prudently pursued, by a belief that the sentiments of the people were in direct opposition to the measures of their government. So excessive, and so general, were the demonstrations of enthusiastic devotion to France; so open were their expressions of outrage and hostility towards all the powers at war with that republic; so thin was the veil which covered the chief magistrate from that stream of malignant opprobrium directed against every measure which thwarted the views of Mr. Genet; that a person less sanguine than that minister might have cherished the hope of being able ultimately to triumph over the opposition to his designs. Civic festivals, and other public assemblages of people, at which the ensigns of France were displayed in union with those of America; at which the red cap, as a symbol of French liberty and fraternity, triumphantly passed from head to head; at which toasts were given expressive of a desire to identify the people of America with those of France; and, under the imposing guise of adhering to principles not to men, containing allusions to the influence of the President which could not be mistaken; appeared to Mr. Genet to indicate a temper extremely favourable to his hopes, and very different from that which would be required for the preservation of an honest neutrality. Through the medium of the press, these sentiments were communicated to the public, and were represented as flowing from the hearts of the great body of the people. In various other modes, that important engine contributed its powerful aid to the extension of opinions, calculated, essentially, to vary the situation of the United States. The proclamation of neutrality which was treated as a royal edict, was not only considered as assuming powers not belonging to the executive, and, as evidencing the monarchical tendencies of that department, but as demonstrating the disposition of the government to break its connexions with France, and to dissolve the friendship which united the people of the two republics. The declaration that "the duty and interest of the United States required that they should with sincerity and good faith adopt and pursue a conduct friendly and impartial towards the belligerent powers," gave peculiar umbrage. The scenes of the revolutionary war were brought into review; the object and effect of British hostility were painted in glowing colours; and the important aids afforded by France were drawn with a pencil not less animated. That the conduct of Britain, since the treaty of peace had furnished unequivocal testimony of enmity to the United States, was strongly pressed. With this continuing enmity was contrasted the amicable dispositions professed by the French republic; and it was asked with indignation, whether the interests of the United States required that they should pursue "a line of conduct entirely impartial between these two powers? That the services of the one as well as the injuries of the other, should be forgotten? that a friend and an enemy should be treated with equal favour? and that neither gratitude nor resentment should constitute a feature of the American character?" The supposed freedom of the French was opposed to the imagined slavery of the English; and it was demanded whether "the people of America were alike friendly to republicanism and to monarchy? to liberty and to despotism?"
With infectious enthusiasm it was contended, that there was a natural and inveterate hostility between monarchies and republics; that the present combination against France was a combination against liberty in every part of the world; and that the destinies of America were inseparably linked with those of the French republic.
On the various points of controversy which had arisen between the executive and Mr. Genet, this active and powerful party openly and decidedly embraced the principles for which that minister contended. It was assumed that his demands were sanctioned by subsisting treaties, and that his exposition of those instruments was perfectly correct. The conduct of the executive in withholding privileges to which France was said to be entitled by the most solemn engagements, was reprobated with extreme acrimony; was considered as indicative of a desire to join the coalesced despots in their crusade against liberty; and as furnishing to the French republic such just motives for war, that it required all her moderation and forbearance to restrain her from declaring it against the United States.
Mr. Genet was exhorted not to relax in his endeavours to maintain the just rights of his country; and was assured that, in the affections of the people, he would find a firm and certain support.
These principles and opinions derived considerable aid from the labours and intrigues of certain societies, who had constituted themselves the guardians of American liberty.
The manner in which that attention of the conduct of those invested with the power which is essential in balanced governments, may safely be employed, had been so misconceived, that temporary and detached clubs of citizens had occasionally been formed in different parts of the United States, for the avowed purpose of watching the conduct of their rulers. After the adoption of the constitution, some slight use was made, by its enemies, of this weapon; and, in the German Republican Society particularly, many of the most strenuous opponents of the administration were collected.
[Sidenote: Democratic societies formed.]
The force and power of these institutions had been fully developed, and their efficacy in prostrating existing establishments clearly ascertained by the revolution in France. The increased influence which they derived from corresponding with each other, had been unequivocally demonstrated; and soon after the arrival of Mr. Genet, a democratic society was formed in Philadelphia on the model of the Jacobin club in Paris. An anxious solicitude for the preservation of freedom, the very existence of which was menaced by a "European confederacy transcendent in power and unparalleled in iniquity;" which was endangered also by "the pride of wealth and arrogance of power," displayed within the United States; was the motive assigned for the association. "A constant circulation of useful information, and a liberal communication of republican sentiments, were thought to be the best antidotes to any political poison with which the vital principle of civil liberty might be attacked:" and to give the more extensive operation to their labours, a corresponding committee was appointed, through whom they would communicate with other societies, which might be established on similar principles, throughout the United States.
Faithful to their founder, and true to the real objects of their association, these societies continued, during the term of their existence, to be the resolute champions of all the encroachments attempted by the agents of the French republic on the government of the United States, and the steady defamers of the views and measures of the American executive.
Thus strongly supported, Mr. Genet persisted in his construction of the treaties between the two nations; and, in defiance of the positive determination of the government, continued to act according to that construction.
The President was called to Mount Vernon by urgent business, which detained him less than three weeks; and, in his absence, the heads of departments superintended the execution of those rules which had been previously established.
In this short interval, a circumstance occurred, strongly marking the rashness of the minister of France, and his disrespect to the executive of the United States.
The Little Sarah, an English merchantman, had been captured by a French frigate, and brought into the port of Philadelphia, where she was completely equipped as a privateer, and was just about to sail on a cruise under the name of le petit Democrat, when the secretary of the treasury communicated her situation to the secretaries of state and of war; in consequence of which, Governor Mifflin was desired to cause an examination of the fact. The warden of the port was directed to institute the proper inquiries; and late in the evening of the sixth of July, he reported her situation, and that she was to sail the next day.
[Sidenote: Genet calculates upon the partialities of the American people for France and openly insults their government.]
In pursuance of the instructions which had been given by the President, the governor immediately sent Mr. Secretary Dallas for the purpose of prevailing on Mr. Genet to relieve him from the employment of force, by detaining the vessel in port until the arrival of the President, who was then on his way from Mount Vernon. Mr. Dallas communicated this message to the French minister in terms as conciliatory as its nature would permit. On receiving it, he gave a loose to the most extravagant passion. After exclaiming with vehemence against the measure, he complained, in strong terms, and with many angry epithets, of the ill treatment which he had received from some of the officers of the general government, which he contrasted with the cordial attachment that was expressed by the people at large for his nation. He ascribed the conduct of those officers to principles inimical to the cause of France, and of liberty. He insinuated that, by their influence, the President had been misled; and observed with considerable emphasis, that the President was not the sovereign of this country. The powers of peace and war being vested in congress, it belonged to that body to decide those questions growing out of treaties which might involve peace or war; and the President, therefore, ought to have assembled the national legislature before he ventured to issue his proclamation of neutrality, or to prohibit, by his instructions to the state governors, the enjoyment of the particular rights which France claimed under the express stipulations of the treaty of commerce. The executive construction of that treaty was neither just nor obligatory; and he would make no engagement which might be construed into a relinquishment of rights which his constituents deemed indispensable. In the course of this vehement and angry declamation, he spoke of publishing his correspondence with the officers of government, together with a narrative of his proceedings; and said that, although the existing causes would warrant an abrupt departure, his regard for the people of America would induce him to remain here, amidst the insults and disgusts that he daily suffered in his official character from the public officers, until the meeting of congress; and if that body should agree in the opinions and support the measures of the President, he would certainly withdraw, and leave the dispute to be adjusted between the two nations themselves. His attention being again called by Mr. Dallas to the particular subject, he peremptorily refused to enter into any arrangements for suspending the departure of the privateer, and cautioned him against any attempt to seize her, as she belonged to the republic; and, in defence of the honour of her flag, would unquestionably repel force by force.
On receiving the report of Mr. Dallas, Governor Mifflin ordered out one hundred and twenty militia, for the purpose of taking possession of the privateer; and communicated the case, with all its circumstances, to the officers of the executive government. On the succeeding day, Mr. Jefferson waited on Mr. Genet, in the hope of prevailing on him to pledge his word that the privateer should not leave the port until the arrival of the President. The minister was not less intemperate with Mr. Jefferson than he had been with Mr. Dallas. He indulged himself, in a repetition of nearly the same passionate language, and again spoke, with extreme harshness, of the conduct of the executive. He persisted in refusing to make any engagements for the detention of the vessel; and, after his rage had in some degree spent itself, he entreated that no attempt might be made to take possession of her, as her crew was on board, and force would be repelled by force.
He then also said that she was not ready to sail immediately. She would change her position, and fall down the river a small distance on that day; but was not yet ready to sail.
In communicating this conversation to Governor Mifflin, Mr. Jefferson stated his conviction that the privateer would remain in the river until the President should decide on her case; in consequence of which, the governor dismissed the militia, and requested the advice of the heads of departments on the course which it would be proper for him to pursue. Both the governor and Mr. Jefferson stated, that in reporting the conversation between Mr. Genet and himself, Mr. Dallas had said that Mr. Genet threatened, in express terms, "to appeal from the President to the people."
Thus braved and insulted in the very heart of the American empire, the secretaries of the treasury, and of war, were of opinion that it was expedient to take immediate provisional measures for establishing a battery on Mud Island, under cover of a party of militia, with directions, that if the vessel should attempt to depart before the pleasure of the President should be known concerning her, military coercion should be employed to arrest her progress.
The secretary of state dissenting from this opinion, the measure was not adopted. The vessel fell down to Chester before the arrival of the President, and sailed on her cruise before the power of the government could be interposed.
On the 11th of July the President reached Philadelphia, and requested that his cabinet ministers would convene at his house the next day at nine in the morning.
Among the papers placed in his hands by the secretary of state, which required immediate attention, were those which related to the Little Democrat. On reading them, a messenger was immediately despatched for the secretary, but he had retired, indisposed, to his seat in the country. Upon hearing this, the President instantly addressed a letter to him, of which the following is an extract. "What is to be done in the case of the Little Sarah, now at Chester? Is the minister of the French republic to set the acts of this government at defiance with impunity—and then threaten the executive with an appeal to the people? What must the world think of such conduct? and of the government of the United States in submitting to it?
"These are serious questions—circumstances press for decision;—and as you have had time to consider them, (upon me they come unexpectedly,) I wish to know your opinion upon them even before to-morrow—for the vessel may then be gone."
In answer to this letter, the secretary stated the assurances which had on that day been given to him by Mr. Genet, that the vessel would not sail before the President's decision respecting her should be made. In consequence of this information, immediate coercive measures were suspended; and in the council of the succeeding day it was determined to retain in port all privateers which had been equipped by any of the belligerent powers within the United States. This determination was immediately communicated to Mr. Genet; but, in contempt of it, the Little Democrat proceeded on her cruise.
[Footnote 6: They were particularly enumerated, and the decision was also extended to the ship Jane, an English armed merchantman, alleged by Mr. Genet to be a privateer, and the governor was requested to attend to her, and if he found her augmenting her force and about to depart, to cause her to be stopped.
The Jane had augmented her armament by replacing four old gun-carriages with new ones, and opening two new portholes. The request of the British consul that these alterations might be allowed was peremptorily rejected, and directions were given that she should be restored precisely to the situation in which she entered the port. Had she attempted to sail without obeying these orders, Governor Mifflin had taken measures to stop her at Mud Island.]
In this, as in every effort made by the executive to maintain the neutrality of the United States, that great party which denominated itself "THE PEOPLE," could perceive only a settled hostility to France and to liberty, a tame subserviency to British policy, and a desire, by provoking France, to engage America in the war, for the purpose of extirpating republican principles.
[Footnote 7: See note No. III. at the end of the volume.]
The administration received strong additional evidence of the difficulty that would attend an adherence to the system which had been commenced, in the acquittal of Gideon Henfield.
A prosecution had been instituted against this person who had enlisted in Charleston on board a French privateer equipped in that port, which had brought her prizes into the port of Philadelphia. This prosecution had been directed under the advice of the attorney general, who was of opinion, that persons of this description were punishable for having violated subsisting treaties, which, by the constitution, are the supreme law of the land; and that they were also indictable at common law, for disturbing the peace of the United States.
It could not be expected that the democratic party would be inattentive to an act so susceptible of misrepresentation. Their papers sounded the alarm; and it was universally asked, "what law had been offended, and under what statute was the indictment supported? Were the American people already prepared to give to a proclamation the force of a legislative act, and to subject themselves to the will of the executive? But if they were already sunk to such a state of degradation, were they to be punished for violating a proclamation which had not been published when the offence was committed, if indeed it could be termed an offence to engage with France, combating for liberty against the combined despots of Europe?"
As the trial approached, a great degree of sensibility was displayed; and the verdict in favour of Henfield was celebrated with extravagant marks of joy and exultation. It bereaved the executive of the strength to be derived from an opinion, that punishment might be legally inflicted on those who should openly violate the rules prescribed for the preservation of neutrality; and exposed that department to the obloquy of having attempted a measure which the laws would not justify.
About this time, a question growing out of the war between France and Britain, the decision of which would materially affect the situation of the United States, was presented to the consideration of the executive.
It will be recollected that during the war which separated America from Britain, the celebrated compact termed the armed neutrality was formed in the north of Europe, and announced to the belligerent powers. A willingness to acquiesce in the principles it asserted, one of which was that free bottoms should make free goods, was expressed by the governments engaged in the war, with the single exception of Great Britain. But, however favourably the United States, as a belligerent, might view a principle which would promote the interests of inferior maritime powers, they were not willing, after the termination of hostilities, to enter into engagements for its support which might endanger their future peace; and, in this spirit, instructions were given to their ministers in Europe.
This principle was ingrafted into the treaty of commerce with France; but no stipulation on the subject had been made with England. It followed, that, with France, the character of the bottom was imparted to the cargo; but with Britain, the law of nations was the rule by which the respective rights of the belligerent and neutral were to be decided.
Construing this rule to give security to the goods of a friend in the bottoms of an enemy, and to subject the goods of an enemy to capture in the bottoms of a friend, the British cruisers took French property out of American vessels, and their courts condemned it as lawful prize.
Mr. Genet had remonstrated against the acquiescence of the American executive in this exposition of the law of nations, in such terms as he was accustomed to employ; and on the 9th of July, in the moment of the contest respecting the Little Democrat, he had written a letter demanding an immediate and positive answer to the question, what measures the President had taken, or would take, to cause the American flag to be respected? He observed, that "as the English would continue to carry off, with impunity, French citizens, and French property found on board of American vessels, without embarrassing themselves with the philosophical principles proclaimed by the President of the United States," and as the embarrassing engagements of France deprived her of the privileges of making reprisals at every point, it was necessary for the interests of both nations, quickly to agree on taking other measures.
Not receiving an immediate answer, Mr. Genet, towards the close of July, again addressed the secretary of state on the subject. In this extraordinary letter, after complaining of the insults offered to the American flag by seizing the property of Frenchmen confided to its protection, he added, "your political rights are counted for nothing. In vain do the principles of neutrality establish, that friendly vessels make friendly goods; in vain, sir, does the President of the United States endeavour, by his proclamation, to reclaim the observation of this maxim; in vain does the desire of preserving peace lead to sacrifice the interests of France to that of the moment; in vain does the thirst of riches preponderate over honour in the political balance of America: all this management, all this condescension, all this humility, end in nothing; our enemies laugh at it; and the French, too confident, are punished for having believed that the American nation had a flag, that they had some respect for their laws, some conviction of their strength, and entertained some sentiment of their dignity. It is not possible for me, sir, to paint to you all my sensibility at this scandal which tends to the diminution of your commerce, to the oppression of ours, and to the debasement and vilification of republics. It is for Americans to make known their generous indignation at this outrage; and I must confine myself to demand of you a second time, to inform me of the measures which you have taken, in order to obtain restitution of the property plundered from my fellow citizens, under the protection of your flag. It is from our government they have learnt that the Americans were our allies, that the American nation was sovereign, and that they knew how to make themselves respected. It is then under the very same sanction of the French nation, that they have confided their property and persons to the safeguard of the American flag; and on her, they submit the care of causing those rights to be respected. But if our fellow citizens have been deceived, if you are not in a condition to maintain the sovereignty of your people, speak; we have guaranteed it when slaves, we shall be able to render it formidable, having become freemen."
On the day preceding the date of this offensive letter, the secretary of state had answered that of the 9th of July; and, without noticing the unbecoming style in which the decision of the executive was demanded, had avowed and defended the opinion, that "by the general law of nations, the goods of an enemy found in the vessels of a friend are lawful prize." This fresh insult might therefore be passed over in silence.
While a hope remained that the temperate forbearance of the executive, and the unceasing manifestations of its friendly dispositions towards the French republic, might induce the minister of that nation to respect the rights of the United States, and to abstain from violations of their sovereignty, an anxious solicitude not to impair the harmony which he wished to maintain between the two republics, had restrained the President from adopting those measures respecting Mr. Genet, which the conduct of that gentleman required. He had seen a foreign minister usurp within the territories of the United States some of the most important rights of sovereignty, and persist, after the prohibition of the government, in the exercise of those rights. In asserting this extravagant claim, so incompatible with national independence, the spirit in which it originated had been pursued, and the haughty style of a superior had been substituted for the respectful language of diplomacy. He had seen the same minister undertake to direct the civil government; and to pronounce, in opposition to the decisions of the executive, in what departments of the constitution of the United States had placed certain great national powers. To render this state of things more peculiarly critical and embarrassing, the person most instrumental in producing it, had, from his arrival, thrown himself into the arms of the people, stretched out to receive him; and was emboldened by their favour, to indulge the hope of succeeding in his endeavours, either to overthrow their government, or to bend it to his will. But the full experiment had now been made; and the result was a conviction not to be resisted, that moderation would only invite additional injuries, and that the present insufferable state of things could be terminated only by procuring the removal of the French minister, or by submitting to become, in his hands, the servile instrument of hostility against the enemies of his nation. Information was continually received from every quarter, of fresh aggressions on the principles established by the government; and, while the executive was thus openly disregarded and contemned, the members of the administration were reproached in all the papers of an active and restless opposition, as the violators of the national faith, the partisans of monarchy, and the enemies of liberty and of France.
The unwearied efforts of that department to preserve that station in which the various treaties in existence had placed the nation, were incessantly calumniated as infractions of those treaties, and ungrateful attempts to force the United States into the war against France.
[Footnote 8: See note No. IV. at the end of the volume.]
The judgment of the President was never hastily formed; but, once made up, it was seldom to be shaken. Before the last letter of Mr. Genet was communicated to him, he seems to have determined to take decisive measures respecting that minister.
[Sidenote: Rules laid down by the executive in relation to the powers at war within the ports of the United States.]
That the course to be pursued might be well considered, the secretary of state was requested to collect all the correspondence with him, to be laid before a cabinet council about to be held for the purpose of adjusting a complete system of rules to be observed by the belligerents in the ports of the United States. These rules were discussed at several meetings, and finally, on the third of August, received the unanimous approbation of the cabinet. They evidence the settled purpose of the executive, faithfully to observe all the national engagements, and honestly to perform the duties of that neutrality in which the war found them, and in which those engagements left them free to remain.
[Footnote 9: See note No. V. at the end of the volume.]
[Sidenote: The president requests the recall of Genet.]
In the case of the minister of the French republic, it was unanimously agreed that a letter should be written to Mr. Morris, the minister of the United States at Paris, stating the conduct of Mr. Genet, resuming the points of difference which had arisen between the government and that gentleman, assigning the reasons for the opinion of the former, desiring the recall of the latter, and directing that this letter, with those which had passed between Mr. Genet and the secretary of state, should be laid before the executive of the French government.
To a full view of the transactions of the executive with Mr. Genet, and an ample justification of its measures, this able diplomatic performance adds assurances of unvarying attachment to France, expressed in such terms of unaffected sensibility, as to render it impossible to suspect the sincerity of the concluding sentiment—"that, after independence and self-government, there was nothing America more sincerely wished than perpetual friendship with them."
An adequate idea of the passion it excited in Mr. Genet, who received the communication in September, at New York, can be produced only by a perusal of his letter addressed, on that occasion, to the secretary of state. The asperity of his language was not confined to the President, whom he still set at defiance, whom he charged with transcending the limits prescribed by the constitution, and of whose accusation before congress he spoke as an act of justice "which the American people, which the French people, which all free people were interested to reclaim:" nor to those "gentlemen who had been painted to him so often as aristocrats, partisans of monarchy, partisans of England, and consequently enemies of the principles which all good Frenchmen had embraced with a religious enthusiasm." Its bitterness was also extended to the secretary of state himself, whom he had been induced to consider as his personal friend, and who had, he said, "initiated him into mysteries which had inflamed his hatred against all those who aspire to an absolute power."
During these deliberations, Mr. Genet was received in New York with the same remarks of partiality to his nation, and of flattering regard to himself, which had been exhibited in the more southern states. At this place too, he manifested the same desire to encourage discontent at the conduct of the government, and to embark America in the quarrel, by impressing an opinion that the existence of liberty depended on the success of the French republic, which he had uniformly avowed. In answer to an address from the republican citizens of New York, who had spoken of the proclamation of neutrality as relating only to acts of open hostility, not to the feelings of the heart; and who had declared that they would "exultingly sacrifice a liberal portion of their dearest interests could there result, on behalf of the French republic, an adequate advantage;" he said—"in this respect I can not but interpret as you have done the declaration of your government. They must know that the strict performance of treaties is the best and safest policy; they must know that good faith alone can inspire respectability to a nation; that a pusillanimous conduct provokes insult, and brings upon a country those very dangers which it weakly means to avert.
"There is indeed too much reason to fear that you are involved in the general conspiracy of tyrants against liberty. They never will, they never can forgive you for having been the first to proclaim the rights of man. But you will force them to respect you by pursuing with firmness the only path which is consistent with your national honour and dignity.
"The cause of France is the cause of all mankind, and no nation is more deeply interested than you are in its success. Whatever fate awaits her, you are ultimately to share. But the cause of liberty is great and it shall prevail.
"And if France, under a despotic yoke, has been able so successfully to assert your rights, they can never again be endangered while she is at liberty to exert, in your support, that powerful arm which now defies the combined efforts of a whole world."
While these exertions were successfully making to give increased force, and a wider extent, to opinions which might subvert the system adopted by the executive, Mr. Jay, the chief justice of the United States, and Mr. King, a senator representing the state, arrived in New York from Philadelphia. They had been preceded by a report, which was whispered in private circles, that the French minister had avowed a determination to appeal from the President to the people. The confidential intercourse subsisting between these gentlemen and a part of the administration rendering it probable that this declaration, if made, had been communicated to them, they were asked, whether the report was true; having received the information through a channel which was entitled to the most implicit faith, they answered that it was.
[Footnote 10: They received it from the secretaries of the treasury and of war.]
Their having said so was controverted; and they were repeatedly required, in the public papers, to admit or deny that they had made such an assertion. Thus called upon, they published a certificate avowing that they had made the declaration imputed to them.
On reflecting men this communication made a serious impression. The recent events in Poland, whose dismemberment and partition were easily traced to the admission of foreign influence, gave additional solemnity to the occurrence, and led to a more intent consideration of the awful causes which would embolden a foreign minister to utter such a threat.
That party, which in the commencement of the contests respecting the constitution was denominated federal, had generally supported the measures of the administration.
That which was denominated anti-federal, had generally opposed those measures. South of the Potomac especially, there was certainly many important exceptions to this arrangement of parties; yet as a general arrangement, it was unquestionably correct.
In the common partialities for France, in the common hope that the revolution in that country would be crowned with success, and would produce important benefits to the human race, they had equally participated; but in the course to be pursued by the United States, the line of separation between the two parties was clear and distinct. The federalists were universally of opinion that, in the existing war, America ought to preserve a neutrality as impartial as was compatible with her treaties; and that those treaties had been fairly and justly construed by the executive. Seduced however by their wishes, and by their affections, they at first yielded implicit faith to the assurances given by Mr. Genet of the disinclination of the French republic to draw them from this eligible position; and from this belief, they receded slowly and reluctantly.
They were inclined to ascribe the bitter invectives which were pronounced against the executive to an inveterate hostility to the government, and to those who administered it; and, when at length they were compelled to perceive that the whole influence of Mr. Genet was employed in stimulating and pointing these invectives, they fondly indulged the hope that his nation would not countenance his conduct. Adding to their undiminished attachment to the chief magistrate, a keen sense of the disgrace, the humiliation, and the danger of permitting the American government to be forced into any system of measures by the machinations of a foreign minister with the people, they had occasionally endeavoured, through the medium of the press, to keep the public mind correct; and, when it was announced that an appeal to themselves was threatened, they felt impelled by the strongest sentiments of patriotism and regard for national honour, to declare the indignation which the threat had inspired. In every quarter of the union, the people assembled in their districts, and the strength of parties was fully tried. The contest was warm and strenuous. But public opinion appeared to preponderate greatly in favour of neutrality, and of the proclamation by which its observance was directed. It was apparent too, that the American bosom still glowed with ardent affection for their chief magistrate; and that, however successful might have been the shafts directed against some of those who shared his confidence, the arrows aimed at himself had missed their mark.
Yet it was not to be concealed that the indiscreet arrogance of Mr. Genet, the direct insults to the President, and the attachment which many, who were in opposition to the general measures of the administration, still retained for the person of that approved patriot, contributed essentially to the prevalence of the sentiment which was called forth by the occasion.
In the resolutions expressing the strongest approbation of the measures which had been adopted, and the greatest abhorrence of foreign influence, a decided partiality for France was frequently manifested; while in those of a contrary description, respect for the past services of the President, and a willingness to support the executive in the exercises of its constitutional functions, seemed, when introduced, to be reluctantly placed among the more agreeable declarations of detestation for those who sought to dissolve the union between America and France, and of the devotion with which the French revolution ought to be espoused by all the friends of liberty.
The effect which the certificate of Mr. Jay and Mr. King might possibly produce was foreseen; and Mr. Genet sought to avoid its influence by questioning its veracity. Not only had it never been alleged that the exceptionable expressions were used to the President personally, but it was certain that they had not been uttered in his presence. Affecting not to have adverted to this obvious circumstance, the minister, on the 13th of August, addressed a letter to the chief magistrate, which, being designed for publication, was itself the act he had threatened, in which he subjoined to a detail of his accusations against the executive, the demand of an explicit declaration that he had never intimated to him an intention to appeal to the people.