[Map: Distribution of Population 1800]
Shipping was stimulated also by the Navigation Act of 1789, which imposed lower tonnage duties in American ports on vessels built or owned by American citizens, and by the Tariff Act of the same year, which allowed a ten per cent deduction from the customs duties levied on goods imported in American vessels. These discriminating duties, together with the law of 1792, which excluded foreign-built ships from American registry, would have aided materially in the building of an American marine, even in less prosperous times. The registered tonnage engaged in foreign trade increased from 346,254 in 1790 to 718,549 in 1801; and in coast trade, from 103,775 to 246,255. Yet there was an artificial quality in this prosperity. "Temporary benefits were mistaken for permanent advantages," writes a contemporary; "so certain were the profits on the foreign voyages, that commerce was only pursued as an art; ... the philosophy of commerce, if I am allowed the expression, was totally neglected ... they [merchants] did not contemplate a period of general peace, when each nation will carry its own productions, when discriminations will be made in favour of domestic tonnage, when foreign commerce will be limited to enumerated articles, and when much circumspection will be necessary in all our commercial transactions."
It cannot be said, either, that the American farmer studied the philosophy of agriculture. He owed his crops less to intelligent cultivation of the soil than to provident Nature in a new and untilled country. Both his methods and his implements were bad, and resulted in that land spoliation which has been the bane of American industry. "Agriculture in the South," said John Taylor, of Caroline, "does not consist so much in cultivating land as in killing it"; and the statement was scarcely less true when applied to the Northern farmer. The soil was rapidly exhausted by planting the same crop year after year, for it was easier to take up fresh land than to restore productivity to the old. Indeed, the comments of foreign travelers at the close of the century suggest doubts as to whether the American farmer understood the importance of rotating his crops and of fertilizing his fields. The farming implements in use showed little of that mechanical ingenuity which is now characteristic of the American people. The plough was still a clumsy affair with heavy beam and handles, and wooden mould-board. The scythe, the sickle, and the flail were the same as their forbears had used for centuries.
The demand of Europe for the food products of the Northern and Middle States obscured for a time the importance of cotton as an article of export. In 1790, South Carolina and Georgia, then the only cotton-growing States, produced less than two million pounds of inferior quality, none of which was exported. A decade later thirty-five million pounds were raised, one half of which was exported; and Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee had begun the cultivation. This sudden development was due to the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney, in 1793. This machine facilitated the separation of the seed from the fiber of the short-staple variety of cotton, which alone could be profitably cultivated in the uplands, and thus made possible a vast extension of the area of cotton culture.
The cotton gin came at an opportune moment for the Southern planters, since rice and indigo were declining in importance as exports, and their gangs of African slaves were likely to become a burden. They could now cultivate cotton under an extensive system of agriculture with large immediate profits. Experience proved, however, that the system was extraordinarily wasteful, leading to a rapid exhaustion of the soil. This ever-recurring exhaustion of the soil and demand for new land was a potent cause of the incessant pressure of population into the virgin lands of the Southwest, in succeeding decades.
The new President was the embodiment of the national life. Although he was tall of stature, he was not outwardly an impressive figure. His red, freckled face wore a frank, good-natured expression, but he lacked dignity and poise. "His whole figure has a loose, shackling air," wrote a contemporary. "A laxity of manner seemed shed about him ... even his discourse partook of his personal demeanor. It was loose and rambling." With his blue coat and red waistcoat, his green velveteen breeches, yarn stockings, and slippers down at the heels, he seemed to an English visitor, who saw him in 1804, "very much like a tall, large-boned farmer." Jefferson would have been the last to resent this epithet. No man had a more profound respect for tillers of the soil. Years before he had written: "Generally speaking, the proportion which the aggregate of the other classes of citizens bears in any State to that of its husbandmen is the proportion of its sound to its healthy parts, and is a good enough barometer whereby to measure its degree of corruption." He rejoiced in the agricultural possibilities of America. Could he have had his way, he would have made the republic, in the apt phrase of Mr. Henry Adams, "an enlarged Virginia—a society to be kept pure and free by the absence of complicated interests, by the encouragement of agriculture and of commerce as its handmaid." He abhorred cities and factories, and dreaded the growth of a manufacturing and capitalist class.
An agricultural society bent upon justice, Jefferson believed, could always protect itself against the aggressions of foreign nations. "Our commerce," he wrote soon after his inauguration, "is so valuable to them, that they will be glad to purchase it, when the only price we ask is to do us justice. I believe we have in our own hands the means of peaceable coercion." In this wise the United States would set an example to the world of a society democratically organized and capable of unlimited moral and physical progress.
As the head of a party which had effected a revolution in government, Jefferson's first care was to reconcile his opponents to Republican rule. The inaugural address emphasized the principles upon which all republican governments must be based. It is often said that these principles might have been uttered by Washington with equal propriety—as good Federalist doctrine. This is to mistake the significance of the revolution which had occurred. A party had triumphed which Federalists firmly believed inimical to all government. The announcement that the fundamental principles to which all Americans were attached would guide the new Administration had a meaning which it would not have had if uttered by a Federalist President. So far did Jefferson lean in holding out the olive branch that he ran the risk of minimizing the revolution of 1800. To say that "every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists," was to contradict his often expressed conviction that his party had saved the country from monarchy.
Aside from such generalities as that wise government consists in restraining men from injuring one another and leaving them free to regulate their own pursuits, the inaugural address contains no declaration of purpose or policies. No such reticence marks Jefferson's private letters, which are, indeed, the best expression of his political philosophy. Nowhere is the governing purpose of his Administration stated more clearly than in a letter written just before his inauguration. "Let the general government be reduced to foreign concerns only, and let our affairs be disentangled from those of all other nations, except as to commerce, which the merchants will manage the better the more they are left free to manage for themselves, and our general government may be reduced to a very simple organization and a very unexpensive one,—a few plain duties to be performed by a few servants."
The first and most troublesome task of the Administration was to select these few servants. Even in naming the heads of departments, the President experienced some embarrassment, for, while Madison accepted readily the Secretaryship of State and Albert Gallatin that of the Treasury, the naval portfolio went begging. Robert Smith, of Maryland, was finally persuaded to accept the post. Two New Englanders, Henry Dearborn and Levi Lincoln, became Secretary of War and Attorney-General respectively. Far more difficult was the distribution of the lesser federal offices. Had Jefferson been free to follow his own inclination, he would probably have made few removals, even though such a course would have seemed somewhat inconsistent with his belief that Federalists were monarchists at heart. He yielded slowly and reluctantly to the demands of his partisans for their share of the offices; but he professed to look forward with joy to that state of things when the only questions concerning a candidate shall be, Is he honest? Is he capable? Is he faithful to the Constitution?
The embarrassment of the President was all the greater because removals from office were likely to defeat his policy of conciliating the Federalists; and because the bestowal of offices was likely to alienate some local faction, as in New York, where the Clintons and the Livingstons were fighting the faction led by Burr. Once started on the policy of removal, the descent was easy. The point of equilibrium between the parties was soon passed. By the end of Jefferson's second term of office, the civil service was as preponderatingly Republican as it had been Federalist in 1800. It cannot be denied that Jefferson opened the door to the spoils system; but it should be stated also that he endeavored to make fitness a qualification for office. The charge that offices were given indiscriminately to "wild Irishmen" and French refugees, is not sustained by the facts. On the whole Jefferson's appointments were not inferior in character to those of his predecessors. The vicious aspects of the spoils system did not appear for a generation.
As an opposition party the Republicans had always declaimed vociferously against the powers wielded by the President. Jefferson sincerely wished to avoid what he termed the monarchical tendencies of his predecessors; and as an earnest of his intentions he abandoned not only levees but also the practice of addressing Congress in a speech, since Republicans held this custom a reprehensible imitation of the British speech from the throne. Yet with characteristic indirection, Jefferson assigned other reasons for substituting a written message for the usual personal address. "I have had principal regard," said he, "to the convenience of the Legislature, to the economy of their time, to their relief from the embarrassment of immediate answers, on subjects not yet fully before them, and to the benefits thence resulting to public affairs." It is highly probable that Jefferson had his own convenience also in mind, for he was not a ready nor an impressive speaker.
The keynote of the reforms which the President suggested tactfully to Congress was economy. It was to effect a reduction of the debt, indeed, that Jefferson had called Gallatin to the head of the Treasury. Eight years later he wrote: "The discharge of the debt is vital to the destinies of our government; we shall never see another President and Secretary of the Treasury making all other objects subordinate to this." By laborious calculation Gallatin reached the conclusion that if $7,300,000 were set aside each year, the debt, principal and interest, could be discharged within sixteen years. But the party was clamoring for the reduction of taxes. The problem before the Secretary of the Treasury was how to accomplish these antithetical purposes. The most unpopular tax was unquestionably the excise. If this were cut out and the estimated appropriation for the reduction of the debt were made, the Government would be unable to live within its income. The only alternative was to reduce expenditures. It was at this point that Jefferson's "chaste reformation" of the government was to begin. Under the Federalist regime, in anticipation of war with France, the expenditures for the army and navy had mounted to six millions of dollars, nearly double the normal expenditure of those departments. All good Republicans would welcome a proposal to reverse the militant policy of the Federalists, which, indeed, the return of peace seemed to make unnecessary. It was agreed that the expenditures for the army and navy should be kept below two million dollars.
Notwithstanding Jefferson's wish to avoid everything savoring of executive dictation, he could not abdicate his position as leader of his party. Throughout his first term, at least, he was the master mind directing the policies of the party, in ways which were not less effective because they were personal and indirect. The leadership in the House of Representatives, which then overshadowed the Senate, fell to Southern rather than to Northern Republicans. In close touch with the Speaker, Nathaniel Macon, of North Carolina, and with the chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means, the eccentric John Randolph, of Roanoke, the Administration scored comparatively easy victories over the Federalists on matters of financial policy.
The repeal of the Judiciary Act of 1801 was the second task which the President laid upon the shoulders of Congress. No act of the outgoing Administration had given greater offense. Jefferson expressed a general impression when he declared that the Federalists, driven from the legislative and executive branches of the Government, had retreated into the judiciary as their stronghold. "There the remains of federalism are to be preserved and fed from the Treasury; and from that battery all the works of republicanism are to be beaten down and destroyed." But no suggestion of this animus toward the Federalist judges appeared in the studied moderation of the President's message. The President contented himself with presenting a record of the causes decided by the courts, in order that Congress might "judge of the proportion which the institution bears to the business it has to perform."
[Map: Vote on Repeal of the Judiciary Act House of Representatives March 2, 1802]
Taking their cue from the President, the Republican leaders in Congress urged the repeal of the Judiciary Act on the ground that the new courts had not justified their existence. Republican economy required that unnecessary, and therefore improper, institutions should be abolished. Certain bolder spirits like William Giles, of Virginia, however, frankly admitted a fear of the "ultimate censorial and controlling power" of the courts over all the departments of the Government—a control "over legislation, execution, and decision, and irresponsible to the people." In the background of the active mind of this Virginian was hostility to the new courts "because of their tendency to produce a gradual demolition of State Courts." If this last were the real reason for the repeal of the act, consistency should have led the Republicans to revise the whole judiciary system from the Supreme Court down. But for such radical action few, if any, were prepared. The repealing act passed the House by a party vote of fifty-nine to thirty-two, and was signed by the President on March 8, 1802.
In the course of the acrimonious debate over the judiciary, Federalists had challenged the constitutional right and power of Congress to vacate the judgeships, asserting that the plain intent of the Constitution is to place the judges beyond the power of Congress by prescribing a tenure of office during good behavior. The challenge was disquieting, for with John Marshall on the bench of the Supreme Court, the Republican reformation of the courts might be brought to naught by an adverse decision. A supplementary act was therefore passed which prevented the Supreme Court from holding its usual session. It was hoped that when the court met in the following year, Federalist partisanship would have lost its violence.
Two obnoxious acts of the late Administration—the Alien and the Sedition Acts—had expired by limitation. Congress suffered the Alien Enemies Act to remain upon the statute book, but insisted upon the repeal of the Naturalization Act of the year 1798. The time of residence required of aliens before they could acquire citizenship was again fixed at five years. With these rather meager performances, the reforms of the Republicans came to an end.
Perhaps none of the last appointments of John Adams had so exasperated his successor as that of John Marshall as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Jefferson had an invincible repugnance for Marshall; and the feeling was cordially reciprocated. Between these men there were temperamental differences as wide as the ocean. Moreover, Jefferson entertained the belief that all appointments made by Adams after the results of the election were known were nullities, on the theory that a retiring President might not bind his successor. Two years later, in 1803, in the famous case of Marbury v. Madison, the Supreme Court, speaking through the Chief Justice, took sharp issue with the President. William Marbury had applied to the court for a mandamus to compel Madison, Secretary of State, to deliver his commission as justice of the peace, which, it was alleged, had been duly signed and sealed, but never delivered. The Supreme Court held that Marbury was entitled to his commission. "To withhold his commission, therefore," said Marshall, "is an act deemed by the Court not warranted by law, but violative of a legal vested right." Let President Thomas Jefferson take notice of his constitutional obligations.
The case of Marbury v. Madison, however, has a much deeper significance for constitutional history. Having asserted the right of Marbury to his commission, the court disappointed expectations by refusing to issue the writ of mandamus, on the ground that the power to issue such writs was not conferred by the Constitution upon the Supreme Court as part of its original jurisdiction. And as the Judiciary Act of 1789 had conferred this authority, the court was impelled to declare this provision of the act unwarranted by the Constitution and therefore void. For the first time the Supreme Court asserted its power to pronounce an act of Congress repugnant to the Constitution not to be law, but void and of no effect. In substantiating its position, the court did not inquire into the difficult question whether the framers of the Constitution intended or expected the national judiciary to exercise this authority. It was enough for the purposes of the court that the Constitution was the supreme and paramount law of the land, established by the people of the United States. The Constitution defines and limits the powers of government it must then control any legislative act repugnant to it. "Certainly all those who have framed written constitutions contemplate them as forming the fundamental and paramount law of the nation, and, consequently, the theory of every such government must be, that an act of the legislature, repugnant to the constitution, is void."
With equal certitude the court declared that it was the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is. "Those who apply the rule to particular cases, must of necessity expound and interpret that rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the courts must decide on the operation of each." So if a law stood in opposition to the Constitution, the court must decide which of these conflicting rules governs the case. "This is of the very essence of judicial duty." Moreover, the judges may not shut their eyes to the Constitution and see only the law, for they are bound by oath to administer justice not according to the laws alone, but "agreeably to the Constitution and the laws of the United States." "Thus, the particular phraseology of the Constitution of the United States confirms and strengthens the principle, supposed to be essential to all written constitutions, that a law repugnant to the Constitution is void; and that courts, as well as other departments, are bound by that instrument."
On two other occasions the hostility of the Republican Administration provoked a trial of strength with the Federalist judiciary. The impeachment in 1804 of John Pickering, District Judge in New Hampshire, on charges of intoxication and habits unfitting him for his duties, amounted to little short of a tragedy. When the trial opened, Judge Pickering did not appear, but representations made by his son showed beyond a doubt that he was and had been for two years of unsound mind. To convict a man of misdemeanors for which he was not morally responsible seemed a travesty on justice. Yet there was no other constitutional device for removing him. Though Pickering never appeared in person, the managers for the House pressed the prosecution; and rather than leave the administration of justice to a demented judge, the Senate pronounced the unhappy man "guilty as charged," and resolved that he should be removed from office.
On the same day that the Senate reached this monstrous decision, March 12, 1804, the House voted to impeach Justice Samuel Chase, of the Supreme Court. While the defiant words of Chief Justice Marshall in the Marbury case were still rankling in Jefferson's bosom, Justice Chase had gone out of his way to attack the Administration, in addressing a grand jury at Baltimore. The repeal of the Judiciary Act, he had declared, had shaken the independence of the national judiciary to its foundations. "Our republican Constitution," said he, "will sink into a mobocracy—the worst of all possible governments." To appreciate the effect of this partisan outburst upon the President, one must recall that Chase was the judge who had presided at the trials of Fries and of Callender, and who had left the bench to electioneer for John Adams in the campaign of 1800. Jefferson immediately wrote to Nicholson, who was managing Pickering's impeachment, raising the question whether "this seditious and official attack on the principles of our Constitution" ought to go unpunished.
Such was Jefferson's way of initiating the measures of the Administration. His supporters in the House were not over-eager to take up the gauntlet, but as usual the wishes of the President prevailed. The management of the impeachment of Chase fell to John Randolph, who was as ill-fitted by temperament for the difficult task as a man could be. Instead of impeaching Chase for his indiscretion at Baltimore, Randolph dragged into the indictment his conduct on the bench during the trials of Fries and of Callender, and certain errors in law which he was alleged to have committed. The effect of these latter items was to range all the bench on the side of Chase, for if a mere mistake in judgment was a proper ground of impeachment, no judge was safe in his tenure. Justice Chase secured some of the best legal talent in the country to conduct his defense; and the trial assumed from the outset a spectacular character from the personalities involved.
The managers of the impeachment were far from consistent in their conception of the nature of impeachable offenses. Randolph, Campbell, and Giles held that an impeachment was "a kind of inquest into the conduct of an officer merely as it regards his office," rather than a criminal prosecution. A judge, in short, might be removed for a mistake in the administration of the law. Nicholson rejected this theory, contending that impeachment was essentially a criminal prosecution which aimed at not only the removal but also the punishment of the offender. Yet the managers had not specified any offense which could be called a "high crime" or "misdemeanor" within the meaning of the Constitution. The counsel for Justice Chase, on the other hand, held consistently to the position that a judge might not be impeached or removed from office for anything short of an indictable offense, an offense indictable under the known law of the land.
From the first, the legal counsel for the accused were more than a match for the managers. Randolph's erratic course culminated in an impassioned but incoherent speech which closed the argument for the prosecution and left the outcome hardly in doubt. Not one of the articles of impeachment received the two-thirds majority which was necessary to convict. The eighth article, which touched upon the real provocation for the trial,—the harangue at Baltimore,—received the highest vote; but nearly one fourth of the Republican Senators refused to sustain the managers. The acquittal of Chase was, therefore, a judgment against Randolph. He never recovered his lost prestige as the leader of his party in the House. Jefferson could accept Randolph's downfall with equanimity, but not the failure of the impeachment. Years afterward he wrote, bitterly that impeachment was "an impracticable thing, a mere scarecrow." From this time on, said he, the judges held office without any sense of responsibility, led "by a crafty chief-judge who sophisticates the law to his mind by the turn of his own reasoning."
Although the general histories contain much that is important for an understanding of the administrations of Jefferson, the authority par excellence is Henry Adams, History of the United States of America (9 vols., 1889-91). Chapters I-VI of the first volume contain an excellent description of American society about 1800; but for the details of social and economic life the reader will turn to McMaster. A briefer account of the Jeffersonian regime may be found in Channing, The Jeffersonian System, 1801-1811 (in The American Nation, vol. 12, 1906). Henry Adams has also contributed two biographies to this period: Life of Albert Gallatin (1878), and John Randolph(1882). The Federalist point of view is admirably presented in S. E. Morison, The Life and Letters of Harrison Gray Otis (2 vols., 1913). The larger biographies of Jefferson are: H. S. Randall, Life of Thomas Jefferson (3 vols., 1858), commonly referred to as the standard biography, though exceedingly partisan; G. Tucker, Life of Thomas Jefferson (2 vols., 1837); and James Parton, Life of Thomas Jefferson(1874).
THE PURCHASE OF THE PROVINCE OF LOUISIANA
Not a war cloud was in the sky when Jefferson took the oath of office. The European calm, to be sure, proved to be only a lull in the tempest of war which was to rage fifteen years longer; but no man could have cast the horoscope of Europe in that age of storm and stress. The times seemed auspicious for the Republican program of retrenchment and economy. Jefferson was so sanguine of continued peace that he would have been glad to lay up all seven of the frigates which then constituted the navy in the eastern branch of the Potomac, where "they would be under the immediate eye of the department, and would require but one set of plunderers to take care of them." Peace was his passion, he frankly avowed. He would have been glad to banish all the paraphernalia of war. Yet within three months the United States was at war with an insignificant Mediterranean power and menaced by France from an unexpected quarter.
Early in the spring of 1801, the Pasha of Tripoli, one of the Barbary powers which for years had preyed upon the commerce of the Mediterranean, declared war upon the United States by cutting down the flagstaff at the residence of the American consul. European states had purchased immunity for their commerce by paying tribute to these rapacious pirates; and the United States had followed the custom. The Pasha of Tripoli, however, was dissatisfied with the American tribute, a paltry eighty-three thousand dollars, and demanded more. The other Barbary powers threatened to make common cause with him. Anticipating trouble, Jefferson had sent a small squadron to the Mediterranean even before the dramatic act of the Pasha at the American consulate; and hostilities began on August 1 with the capture of a corsair by the schooner Enterprise. Therewith Jefferson's dreams of a navy for coast defense only vanished in thin air.
Contrary to all expectations, the Tripolitan War dragged on for four years, causing the peace-loving Administration no end of embarrassment. So far from reducing expenditures, Gallatin was obliged to devise new ways and means for an ever-increasing naval force. An additional duty of two and one half per cent was laid on all imports which paid an ad valorem duty, and the proceeds were kept as a separate treasury account. The Administration was sensitive to the charge that it was guilty of the very crime which it had accused the Federalists of committing—"taxing the industry of our fellow citizens to accumulate treasure for war." With superior wisdom and a higher sense of popular responsibility, the Republicans, so the argument ran, were establishing a "Mediterranean Fund," so that the people might know in detail just what was collected and spent for war purposes.
Tales of individual daring go far to relieve the tedious record of ineffective blockades and bombardments during the war. Two exploits left an imperishable memory in the minds of contemporaries—Lieutenant Stephen Decatur's destruction of the captured frigate Philadelphia, under the guns of the forts in the harbor of Tripoli; and the tragic death of Lieutenant Richard Somers and the crew of the Intrepid, as they were about to blow up the Tripolitan gunboats in the harbor. These deeds of heroic adventure created the very last thing that Jefferson desired, something closely akin to an esprit de corps in the new navy.
It was not so much the onslaughts of Commodore Preble's gunboats, however, as an unexpected attack on his eastern frontier which brought the Pasha to terms. His exiled brother, Hamet Caramelli, had fallen in with an American adventurer by the name of Eaton, who persuaded him to join an expedition against their common enemy. With a motley army they marched across the desert from Egypt and fell upon the outlying domains of the Pasha. That astute monarch then yielded to persuasion. On June 3, 1805, with many protestations that he was being subjected to humiliating terms, he agreed to live on terms of peace with the United States and renounce all claim to tribute; but his injured feelings were salved by a ransom of sixty thousand dollars for the crew of the Philadelphia. The Pasha's brother was rewarded with a pension of two hundred dollars a year.
At the same moment that hostilities broke out in the Mediterranean, Jefferson heard disquieting news from France. "There is considerable reason to apprehend," he wrote to Monroe, on May 26, 1801, "that Spain cedes Louisiana and the Floridas to France. It is a policy very unwise in both, and very ominous to us." What Jefferson apprehended was, indeed, an accomplished fact. On October 1, 1800, the day after Joseph Napoleon, in the name of his brother, set his hand to the Treaty of Morfontaine, which restored amicable relations between France and the United States, General Berthier under instructions from Napoleon signed at Ildefonso a treaty which restored Louisiana to France. In effect, as Mr. Henry Adams says, the second treaty undid the work of the first.
The retrocession of Louisiana, long desired and sought by the Directory, was regarded by Talleyrand as a diplomatic triumph of first magnitude. The price, easily paid by one who held Italy under his iron heel, was a kingdom in Tuscany for the young Duke of Parma, nephew and son-in-law of Charles IV of Spain. The gateway to this vast province was New Orleans, and the avenue of approach lay by way of Santo Domingo, once an important French colony, but now under the rule of Toussaint L'Ouverture. Before Talleyrand's dream of a revived colonial empire in the heart of the North American continent could be realized, this "gilded African" must be removed and Santo Domingo restored to its former position as the center of the French West Indies. The conquest of a negro republic surely could not be a difficult undertaking for one who had humbled Austria on the battlefields of northern Italy. In November, 1801, Napoleon dispatched Leclerc with an army of ten thousand men to recover Santo Domingo.
Jefferson was thoroughly alarmed at the news of Leclerc's expedition. "Every eye in the United States," he wrote, "is now fixed on this affair of Louisiana. Perhaps nothing since the Revolutionary War has produced more uneasy sensations through the body of the nation." No discerning man could mistake the significance of the expedition; the French troops would proceed to Louisiana after finishing their work in Santo Domingo. The retrocession of Louisiana, in short, as Jefferson said, completely reversed all the political relations of the United States. Hitherto, from the Republican point of view, France had been our natural friend. Henceforth, as the possessor of New Orleans, through which three eighths of the produce of the West passed to market, she became a natural and habitual enemy. "France placing herself in that door," wrote Jefferson to Livingston, "assumes to us the attitude of defiance. The impetuosity of her temper, the energy and restlessness of her character, placed in a point of eternal friction with us, and our character, ... these circumstances render it impossible that France and the United States can continue long friends when they meet in so irritable a position.... The day that France takes possession of New Orleans fixes the sentence which is to restrain her forever within her low-water mark. It seals the union of two nations who in conjunction can maintain exclusive possession of the ocean. From that moment we must marry ourselves to the British fleet and nation."
Even as he expressed his apprehensions to Livingston, then Minister to France, Jefferson suggested ways and means for averting the clash of conflicting interests. If France was bent on possessing and holding Louisiana, might she not make concessions for the sake of retaining the friendship of the United States? Livingston was to sound the French Government to ascertain whether it would entertain the idea of ceding the Island of New Orleans and the Floridas. "We should consider New Orleans and the Floridas as equivalent for the risk of a quarrel with France produced by her vicinage," he assured Livingston.
What the Western world had to fear from the French occupation of Louisiana appeared in November, 1802, when Governor Claiborne, of the Mississippi Territory, reported that the right of deposit at New Orleans had been withdrawn. The act, to be sure, was that of the Spanish intendant, but every one believed that it had been incited by France. The people of the Western waters, particularly in Tennessee and Kentucky, were outraged and demanded instant war against the aggressor. Even in Congress a war party raised its head. During all this popular clamor the self-restraint of the Administration was admirable. The annual message ignored the existence of the war party and referred to the cession of Louisiana in colorless language worthy of Talleyrand.
The Administration was not, however, without a well-considered policy. In January, at the instance of party leaders, an appropriation of two million dollars was voted by Congress "to defray any expenses in relation to the intercourse between the United States and foreign nations"; and James Monroe was appointed Minister Extraordinary to France and Spain, to aid Livingston and Pinckney in "enlarging and more effectually securing our rights and interests in the river Mississippi and in the territories eastward thereof."
Meantime, Napoleon's colonial schemes had received a decisive check. The transfer of Louisiana had been delayed by the opposition of Godoy, who had returned to royal favor in Spain; Leclerc's invading army had been worn away by the attrition of incessant war with the negroes; a second army had been decimated by yellow fever; and finally Leclerc himself had succumbed to the dread destroyer, leaving the remnants of the French troops to their fate. Without the most extraordinary exertions, Santo Domingo was lost; and what was Louisiana without the island which was the very heart of the projected colonial system? The First Consul was almost ready to abandon a project which after all had originated in Talleyrand's brain rather than in his own. What he sought was a fair pretext to cover his retreat from failure.
Livingston plied the French Ministers with arguments to prove that it was good policy to put the Americans in possession of the Island of Orleans. One day, while he was repeating the old story, Talleyrand suddenly asked what he would give for the whole of Louisiana. For the moment Livingston was nonplussed, and declined to make any offer. Talleyrand repeated his question and Livingston replied that twenty millions of francs would be a fair price, if France would pay the spoliation claims of American citizens since the Treaty of 1800. Talleyrand demurred: the sum was too small. Thereupon Livingston promised to advise with Monroe who was expected soon.
Monroe, as it happened, arrived on this very day. On the following day Livingston learned casually from Marbois, a minister who stood very close to the First Consul, that Napoleon had named a hundred million francs and the payment of the American spoliation claims as the price of Louisiana. Further conversation elicited the information that Napoleon would consider an offer of sixty million francs with claims amounting to twenty millions more. For a fortnight the two envoys, at the risk of losing everything, sought to secure better terms. But the First Consul would not abate his demands. On May 2, 1803, Livingston and Monroe set their signatures to a treaty by which Napoleon agreed to sell a province of which he was not in possession and which he had contracted never to alienate. The price to be paid was the sum last named, amounting in American figures to $11,250,000. The amount of outstanding claims which the United States agreed to assume was estimated at $3,750,000. After signing his name to the treaty, Livingston rose and shook hands with Monroe and Marbois. "We have lived long," he said with emotion, "but this is the noblest work of our lives."
In less exalted moments, Livingston and Monroe may well have experienced some disquietude at what they had done. The instructions given to Monroe contemplated no more extensive purchase than New Orleans and West Florida, at a sum not exceeding $10,000,000. The envoys had set out to purchase a tract of land which controlled the delta of the Mississippi they had acquired an empire beyond the Mississippi whose limits they did not know, at a price which exceeded their allowance by $5,000,000. Besides, it was not at first believed that West Florida was included in this purchase. Livingston was keenly disappointed, until on narrower examination he found, in the words of the treaty, evidence which satisfied him that France—to quote Mr. Henry Adams—"had actually bought West Florida without knowing it and had sold it to the United States without being paid for it." The words on which he founded his theory were those which retroceded Louisiana "with the same extent as it now has in the hands of Spain, and that it had when France possessed it, and such as it should be according to the treaties subsequently entered into between Spain and the other States." Monroe soon adopted Livingston's view and pressed it upon the President.
The news of the purchase of Louisiana reached the United States in the latter part of June and occasioned much rejoicing among stanch Republicans of the Middle and Southern States. The people east of the Alleghanies were densely ignorant about this Spanish province, but they sensed in a vague way that its possession by a power like France would have dragged the United States into the maelstrom of European politics. The Federalists of the Eastern States looked askance at this as at every act of the Administration of Thomas Jefferson, without knowing anything about this vast domain beyond the Mississippi. The President himself was not much better informed about Louisiana. In a report to Congress he undertook to put together such information as he could cull from books of travel and pick up by hearsay. His credulity led him into some amazing statements. A thousand miles up the Missouri, he stated soberly, there was a salt mountain, one hundred and eighty miles long and forty-five miles in width, composed of solid rock salt, without any trees or even shrubs on it. He would not have believed the tale but for the testimony of travelers who had shown specimens of the salt to the people of St. Louis. Federalist newspapers made merry over the President's discovery. "Can this be Lot's wife?" asked one editor.
But Jefferson had already taken steps to dispel general ignorance about the Far West. Securing from Congress an appropriation for an expedition among the Missouri Indians, ostensibly to extend the external commerce of the United States, he commissioned his private secretary, Meriwether Lewis, and William Clark, brother of George Rogers Clark, to undertake one of the most important explorations in American annals. With a body of picked men, Lewis and Clark made their way to the upper waters of the Missouri, and passed the winter of 1804-05 among the Mandans. In the following spring and summer they crossed the Rocky Mountains to the waters of the Columbia. Here they spent a second winter, and then began their arduous return, by way of the Great Divide, the Yellowstone River, and the Missouri, to St. Louis. The journals of the members of this expedition are a remarkable record of personal adventures and scientific observations. It was not until 1814, however, that the details of this expedition were given to the public.
Meantime, Lieutenant Zebulon Montgomery Pike had won immediate fame by publishing an account of two thrilling expeditions into the Far West. On the first expedition Pike traced the upper course of the Mississippi almost to its source; on the second, begun soon after his return to St. Louis in 1806, he followed the course of the Arkansas to the peak which bears his name. His attempt to explore the headwaters of the Rio Grande, which he mistook for the Red River, led to his capture by the Spanish authorities. After a roundabout journey through Mexico and Texas, he was released on the Louisiana frontier.
Unexpected as the acquisition of Louisiana was to the Administration, President Jefferson was quick to appreciate the vast importance of the province to the United States. "Giving us the sole dominion of the Mississippi," he wrote, "it excludes those bickerings with foreign powers, which we know of a certainty would have put us at war with France immediately: and it secures to us the course of a peaceable nation." At the same time he was equally quick to see that the acquisition would give "a handle to the malcontents." To his intimates he avowed with the utmost frankness that the Administration had exceeded its constitutional powers. The Constitution, he conceived, did not contemplate the acquisition of territory not included within the limits fixed by the Treaty of 1783. Yet he was firmly convinced of the practical necessity of ratifying the treaty of purchase. The only way out of the dilemma, he thought, was frankly "to rely on the nation to sanction an act done for its great good, without its previous authority."
Never doubting that so benevolent a purpose would be cordially approved, Jefferson drafted an amendment to the Constitution authorizing the acquisition of Louisiana and providing for its government. To his surprise, leading Republicans received his proposal with indifference, not to say with coolness. Nicholas thought that the power to acquire territory by treaty might fairly be inferred from the Constitution, and advised the President not to run the risk of turning the Senate against the treaty by raising constitutional scruples. In much distress of spirit Jefferson replied that to assume by free construction the power to acquire territory was to make blank paper of the Constitution. If the treaty-making power could be stretched in this fashion, then there was no limit to its extent. But finding that his party did not share his scruples, Jefferson abandoned his amendment to the Constitution, "confiding that the good sense of our country will correct the evil of construction when it shall produce ill effects." Hamilton in all the pride of triumphant Federalism had never gone further than this.
The debates in Congress over the treaty are full of interest to the student of constitutional law. The treaty fairly bristled with controversial points. The exigencies of politics played havoc with consistency. Parties seemed to have changed sides. Federalists borrowed state-rights arguments without a tremor; and Republicans employed the language of centralization with Federalist facility. Federalists from New England looked beyond the immediate issue and discerned the inevitable economic as well as political consequences of westward expansion. The men who would have naturally populated the vacant lands of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont would inevitably seek this "new paradise of Louisiana," observed a New England pamphleteer. Jeffersonian Democracy rather than Federalism would become the creed of these transplanted New Englanders, if Ohio were a fair example of future Western Commonwealths. Moreover, as these new States would in all probability enter the Union as slaveholding communities, they would further impair the influence of the Eastern States in the National Government. Even the remnant of the Federalist party in the South opposed the purchase of Louisiana, fearing that the Atlantic States would be depressed in influence by the formation of great States in the West.
Upon one great constitutional principle, both Federalists and Republicans were disposed to agree: that the United States had the power to acquire foreign territory, either by treaty or conquest. Senator Tracy, of Connecticut, conceded this point, but denied that the inhabitants of an acquired territory could be admitted into the Union and be made citizens by treaty. In providing that "the inhabitants of the ceded territory shall be incorporated in the Union," the Administration had exceeded its constitutional authority. The consent of all the States was necessary to admit into the Union. Senator Pickering, of Massachusetts, held the same view. "I believe the assent of each individual State to be necessary," said he, "for the admission of a foreign country as an associate in the Union, in like manner as in a commercial house the consent of each member would be necessary to admit a new partner into the company." To this line of argument, Taylor, of Virginia, replied that the words of the treaty did not contemplate the erection of the ceded territory as a State, but its incorporation as a Territory.
On October 17, 1803, the Senate ratified the treaty by a vote of twenty-four to seven. Two constitutional principles seemed, therefore, to be decided: the Government had a constitutional right to acquire foreign territory; and the treaty-making power could incorporate—whatever that expression might mean—such territory into the Union. A third matter of policy had yet to be determined: what powers had Congress over the new territory? Two courses lay open, either to make Louisiana a part of the "territory" which the Constitution gives Congress power to "dispose of," or to hold the province as a dependency apart from other organized Territories. The provisional act which Congress adopted pointed in this latter direction, since it authorized the President to take possession of the province and concentrated all powers, civil and military, in the hands of agents to be appointed by him. When objection was made that such despotic authority was incompatible with the Constitution, Rodney, of Maryland, declared in the House of Representatives that Congress had a power in the Territories which it could not exercise in the States, and that the limitations of power found in the Constitution were applicable to States and not to Territories. The Republicans were making rapid progress in learning the vocabulary of Federalism.
It is one of the ironies of history that the province over which parties battled with so much display of legal profundity was not yet in the possession of the First Consul. Six months after the ratification of the treaty, in the old Cabildo at New Orleans, Laussat received from the Spanish governor the keys of the city and took possession of the province in the name of his master. For twenty days the Tricolor floated over the Place d'Armes, emblem of the shadowy French tenure. On December 2, it, in turn, gave place to the Stars and Stripes, as Louisiana passed into the hands of the last of its rulers, the puissant young republic.
In the following year Congress divided the province, giving to the southern part, the Territory of Orleans, which contained most of the inhabitants, a separate territorial government, and annexing the sparsely settled upper part to the Indiana Territory. The Act of 1804 was roundly abused because it gave to the President the appointment of all officers in the Territory of Orleans, even the appointment of the legislative council of thirteen. By the treaty, it was pointed out, the inhabitants of Louisiana were guaranteed all "the rights, advantages, and immunities of citizens of the United States." Was not representative government one of these privileges? The obvious answer was the unpreparedness of the Spanish inhabitants for Anglo-American institutions. To the Western American who floated down the Mississippi, past the cotton-fields and sugar plantations cultivated by African negroes, and who landed his cargo on the levee at New Orleans, among the motley throngs, province and city seemed like a foreign country, and the inhabitants aliens in speech and habits. From the buildings, with their many arcades and balconies and varied coloring, to the courts of law where the Code Napoleon, introduced by Laussat, added confusion to the Spanish law, the atmosphere of New Orleans was that of a city of the Old World, where one civilization was superimposed upon an older. Men bred in the traditions of the English law might reasonably doubt whether the people of Louisiana were ready for self-government.
Before the new territorial government could be organized, a remonstrance had been drawn up by the people of Louisiana and forwarded by three commissioners with all possible dispatch to Washington. In the following year (1805), Congress so far yielded to the complaints of the people of Louisiana as to authorize an elective assembly and to hold out the promise of eventual statehood.
But what were the bounds of Louisiana? No one knew with certitude. The letters of Livingston and Monroe had convinced Jefferson that Louisiana included at least West Florida, and for two years he sought by every diplomatic device to wrest from Spain a confirmation of this shadowy title. That Spain did not intend to cede West Florida and that France had no expectation of receiving it seems clear enough from the instructions to Laussat. What he handed over to the American representative was Louisiana, with the Rio Bravo and the Iberville as boundaries. With some show of right, Jefferson might have occupied Texas; he preferred, however, to chase his phantom claim to Florida. For Texas nobody then cared, but the Floridas were coveted by Southern planters.
In a letter written soon after the signing of the Louisiana Treaty, Robert Livingston relates a suggestive conversation which he had with Talleyrand. "What are the eastern bounds of Louisiana?" asked Livingston rather naively. "I do not know," replied Talleyrand; "you must take it as we received it." "But what did you mean to take?" Livingston insisted. "I do not know," was the reply. "Then you mean that we shall construe it our own way?" "I can give you no direction," replied the astute Frenchman. "You have made a noble bargain for yourselves, and I suppose you will make the most of it."
The history of the Barbary Wars is well told by G. W. Allen, Our Navy and the Barbary Corsairs(1905), and by C. O. Paullin, Commodore John Rodgers(1910). The investigations of Henry Adams in foreign archives enabled him to treat the diplomatic history of the purchase of Louisiana with great fullness. F. A. Ogg, The Opening of the Mississippi(1904), and J. K. Hosmer, The Louisiana Purchase (1902), contain brief accounts of the acquisition of the province. The actual route of the Lewis and Clark expedition may be traced with the aid of O. D. Wheeler, The Trail of Lewis and Clark, 1804-1904 (1904). The constitutional aspects of the Louisiana Treaty and the subsequent legislation for the territory are discussed at length by Adams, and less satisfactorily by Schouler and Von Holst. Channing, The Jeffersonian System, 1801-1811 (1906), contains a good account of the whole episode. The problem of the original boundaries is discussed by F. E. Chadwick, The Relations of the United States and Spain(1909).
FACTION AND CONSPIRACY
Down to the end of the eighteenth century, the people of New England possessed a greater degree of social solidarity than any other section of the Union. Descended from English stock, imbued with common religious and political traditions, and bound together by the ties of a common ecclesiastical polity, they cherished, as Jefferson expressed it, "a sort of family pride" which existed nowhere else between people of different States. In New England, there were elements of political and religious dissent, to be sure, but the domination of the Congregational clergy and the magistracy was hardly less complete in the year 1800 than fifty years earlier. New England was governed by "the wise, the good, and the rich." All the forces of education, property, religion, and respectability were united in the maintenance of the established order against the assaults of democracy. New England Federalism was not so much a body of political doctrines as a state of mind. Abhorrence of the forces liberated by the French Revolution was perhaps the dominating emotion. Democracy seemed an aberration of the human mind, which was bound everywhere to produce the same results in society. Jacobinism was the inevitable outcome. "The principles of democracy are everywhere what they have been in France," wrote Ames. "Democracy is a troubled spirit, fated never to rest, and whose dreams, if it sleeps, present only visions of hell."
In 1801, New England was in bitter, irreconcilable opposition to the National Administration. The situation was fraught with grave possibilities. Jefferson himself looked forward to "an uneasy government," if the whole body of New England continued in opposition to Republican principles. Ordinary political opposition was to be expected, of course; but a sectional opposition, fortified by a social solidarity like that of New England, was a menace to the Union. From the moment when he took the oath of office, Jefferson directed his best energies to the Republican conquest of New England. It was a policy dictated not only by partisan considerations, but also by the highest instincts of statesmanship. The fair-minded historian is bound to record that the Jeffersonian party in this period of its history was, in spite of all its inconsistencies, a potent agency in the maintenance of the Union.
The first conquest of the Republicans was that of Rhode Island in the first year of the new Administration. The President was deeply gratified by what he called "the regeneration of Rhode Island," interpreting the event as "the beginning of that resurrection of the genuine spirit of New England." Vermont, he prophesied, would next emerge from under the yoke of the Federalist hierarchy; and the fall election verified his prediction. Elsewhere the contest was more stubborn and prolonged, but the Federalists noted with alarm that the Republican vote was increasing everywhere. By the end of Jefferson's first term, the number of Republican voters in New England very nearly equaled that of their opponents.
The ranks of the Republican party were recruited largely from the rural districts, where hostility to the mercantile and moneyed classes was most bitter. It was the old alignment of the men of little or no personal property against the prosperous and well-to-do classes. From this point of view the Republican movement was an attack upon the privileged orders, an attempt to break down the social hierarchy of New England. Closely connected with the political movement was also the struggle of the Baptists and the Methodists to secure religious freedom in Massachusetts and Connecticut. The dissenters looked to Jefferson as their natural leader; and the bitter opposition of the Congregational clergy to the spread of democracy was due to their persistent, and no doubt sincere, belief that dissent and democracy were manifestations of the same radical and destructive spirit.
The rising tide of Republicanism and the increasing popularity of the Administration cast the Federalist leaders into the deepest gloom. The annexation of Louisiana was regarded as a mortal blow, since it imperiled the ascendency of New England in the Union, and New England was the stronghold of Federalism. At the beginning of the year 1804, most of the Federalist members of Congress from New England were agreed in thinking that a crisis was approaching. Democracy was about to triumph over the forces of law and order. The only question was how to save their section, where the ravages of Jacobinism could yet be stayed. There was but one answer, from the point of view of Senator Timothy Pickering. The people of the Eastern States could not reconcile their habits, views, and interests with those of the South and West: therefore, let them withdraw from the Union and form a Northern Confederation. Plumer, of New Hampshire, and Tracy and Griswold, of Connecticut, were in hearty agreement with this view. Pickering then put his project before the members of the coterie of Federalists in Massachusetts, which was generally known as the "Essex Junto." As the confederacy shaped itself in Pickering's imagination, it would of necessity include New York, which would act as a barrier to the insidious inroads of Southern Jacobinism; but Massachusetts should initiate the movement.
Replying for his intimates in the Essex Junto, George Cabot put aside the project, not as in any wise morally reprehensible,—on the contrary, he thought separation desirable,—but as impracticable. The people of New England were not aware of their danger and therefore not prepared for so radical a movement. The only chance for a successful revolution, Cabot thought, would be "a war with Great Britain manifestly provoked by our rulers." Pickering and Griswold then turned to New York for support and to Aaron Burr.
The Vice-President was at this time without political influence in the Administration, and without credit, either morally or politically. In New York, the Livingstons and the Clintons, whom he had mortally offended, were determined to drive him from the party. At first, Burr was inclined to give way: he even applied to the President for an executive appointment; but this resource failing, he determined to fight his enemies to the bitter end. In February, 1804, he was nominated for governor by a group of his friends in the legislature, in opposition to the Clinton faction. It was well known that many Federalists would support his candidacy. At this crucial moment, Pickering and Griswold sought out Burr as an ally. As Governor of New York, they intimated, he would be in a strategic position and could take the lead in the secession of the Northern States. His leadership in the movement, in short, was to be the price of Federalist support at the polls. But the shifty Burr would not commit himself further than to promise an administration satisfactory to the Federalists. The conspirators had to rest content with this vague assurance and to count on Burr's ambition, and his desire to be revenged upon his enemies, to bind him to their cause.
Meantime, Alexander Hamilton was straining every nerve to prevent the Federalists from indorsing the man who stood in the way of his own ambition and whom he believed to be a dangerous and unprincipled character. Some vestige of prudence kept the party from committing itself openly to Burr, but its vote was cast for him. Burr carried his old stronghold, New York City, but he was beaten elsewhere in the State. The hopes of the Federalists were shattered; the conspirators were confounded; and the bubble of a Northern Confederacy vanished.
The immediate consequences of this political episode were personal. Hamilton had again thwarted the ambitions and incurred the deadly enmity of an embittered political desperado. A challenge followed and was accepted. On a summer morning, July 11, 1804, at Weehawken across the Hudson, the rivals faced each other for the last time. Hamilton threw away his fire: Burr aimed with murderous intent, and Hamilton fell mortally wounded. From this moment Burr was a marked man and an outcast from respectable society in the East. The newer society of the West, less sensitive in such matters, thought none the less of a man who had shot his foe in a fair fight. Thither Burr betook himself when his term of office expired.
As the presidential election approached, the Republicans determined to prevent any recurrence of the accident which had so nearly seated Burr in the President's chair. This resolve took the form of a constitutional amendment which provided that presidential electors should designate on distinct ballots the persons voted for as President and Vice-President. To change the Constitution in this wise was a delicate matter. No part of the work of the Federal Convention had been more difficult than to reconcile the small-State party to the mode provided for the election of a President. The final settlement had been accepted only in the expectation that in most cases the electoral college would fail to elect, and that a choice would then be made by the House of Representatives, where the small States would have an equal voice with the large States. To remove the chances of an election by the House was to upset the original compromise and to increase the importance of the large States in the initial election.
Another consequence would follow the proposed change. The office of Vice-President would be degraded. Roger Griswold clearly foresaw this eventuality. "The office will generally be carried into the market," said he, "to be exchanged for the votes of some large States for President; and the only criterion which will be regarded as a qualification for the office of Vice-President will be the temporary influence of the candidate over the electors of his State." Notwithstanding these and many less obvious objections, the amendment was adopted by a party vote in Congress and promptly ratified by thirteen out of the sixteen States before the fall elections.
The campaign of 1804 was uneventful. The congressional caucus of the Republican party dropped Burr as a candidate and nominated George Clinton, of New York. Jefferson was the unanimous choice of his party. The depressed Federalists supported Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, of South Carolina, and Rufus King, of New York, as their candidates. Jefferson was triumphantly reelected with the loss of only two States, Connecticut and Delaware, and of two electoral votes in Maryland. Well might he exult at the discomfiture of his enemies. "The two parties," he wrote to Volney, "are almost melted into one."
[Map: The Yazoo-Georgia Land Controversy]
Below the calm surface of Republican politics, however, dangerous counter-currents swirled. For a time the controversy over the Yazoo land claims seemed likely to be a reef on which Republican unity would be shattered. Both the United States and Georgia laid claim to the great Western tract which is now occupied by the States of Mississippi and Alabama. But Georgia with a stronger prima facie case evinced little regard for the claims of the Federal Government. In 1795, while a mania for land speculation was sweeping over the country, the legislature yielded to corrupt influences and sold some thirty-five million acres in the disputed territory for the sum of $500,000 to four land companies. In the following year, the people of Georgia rose in their wrath, turned out the corrupt legislators, and forced the passage of a rescinding act. Meantime, sales had been made by the Yazoo speculators to guileless purchasers, who now appealed to Congress for relief. In 1798, Congress enacted a law providing for commissioners who should confer with Georgia regarding these conflicting claims. At the same time the Territory of Mississippi was organized.
Such was the status of the Yazoo land claims when Jefferson became President. It fell to him to appoint the federal commissioners. They wrestled manfully with the perplexing details of the controversy, and in 1802 reported what they believed to be a fair settlement of the claims of all parties. Georgia was to cede her Western lands to the United States in return for a payment of $1,250,000 and an agreement on the part of the Federal Government to extinguish all Indian titles within her limits as soon as might be. In the course of time this Western territory was to be admitted as a State. Five million acres were to be set aside to satisfy the claims of those who had suffered loss by the rescinding act of Georgia.
The morbid imagination of John Randolph could see nothing but jobbery in this proposal to satisfy claims which had been fraudulently obtained from the Legislature of Georgia. There can be little doubt that Randolph's hatred for Madison, who was a member of the federal commission, influenced his subsequent action. On two occasions, in 1804 and again in 1805, he assailed the proposed compromise, and twice he secured a postponement, though he could not defeat the bill which embodied the conclusions of the commission. From this time on Randolph was never more than an uncertain ally of the Administration. The few politicians who still followed his lead were styled rather contemptuously "Quids." Even Republicans with slender classical training grasped the significance of a tertium quid. Yet Randolph was still a power in the House.
The Yazoo affair dragged on for years. In 1810, a decision of the Supreme Court gave aid and comfort to the opposition. In the case of Fletcher v. Peck, the court held that the original Act of 1795, conveying the Yazoo grants, was a contract within the meaning of the Constitution which might not be impaired by subsequent legislation. It was not until 1814 that Congress voted $8,000,000 to the claimants under this act and so settled one of the most obstinate controversies in the history of Congress.
In the fall of 1805, Jefferson seemed about to realize what had been the object of his diplomatic endeavors ever since the acquisition of Louisiana. Intimations came from Talleyrand that the Floridas might be obtained by purchase if the United States would prevail upon Spain to refer the whole dispute to Napoleon. On December 3, 1805, he sent a message to Congress which seemed to break completely with all Jeffersonian precedents. It recounted the failure of negotiations with Spain, and spoke sternly of the depredations committed in the new Territories by Spanish officers and soldiers. The Administration had found it necessary to order the troops on the frontier to be in readiness to repel future aggressions. Some of the injuries committed admitted of a peaceable remedy. Some of them were "of a nature to be met by force only, and all of them may lead to it." Coupled with these admonitions were suggestions for the fortification of seaports, the building of war-vessels, and the organization of the militia.
Coming from the pen of one who had written that peace was his passion and who had hitherto avoided war with Quaker-like submission, this message caused bewilderment on all sides. The West, however, took the President literally and looked forward with enthusiasm to a war which was bound to end in the overthrow of Spanish dominion in the Southwest. Three days later a secret message was delivered to the House of Representatives announcing that Spain was disposed to effect a settlement "so comprehensive as to remove as far as possible the grounds of future collision and controversy on the eastern as well as the western side of the Mississippi." Only a show of force was needed "to advance the object of peace."
Randolph for one was thoroughly disgusted by "this double set of opinions and principles"; and his ill-temper gave vent to biting invective when he learned, that as chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means he was expected to propose an appropriation of $2,000,000 for the purchase of Florida. He refused flatly to assume the responsibility "of delivering the public purse to the first cut-throat that demanded it," for Madison had said in private conversation that the money was destined for Napoleon. The opposition of Randolph caused weeks of delay. It was not until March 13 that Madison could authorize Armstrong, minister to France, to offer $5,000,000 for Florida and Texas. It was then too late. Either Armstrong had been misled or Napoleon had changed his mind: in either case, the favorable moment had passed. The purchase of Florida was indefinitely deferred.
During these months, when relations with Spain were strained to the breaking point, Aaron Burr was weaving the strands of one of the most intricate and baffling intrigues in American history. Shortly after relinquishing the office of Vice-President, Burr undertook an extensive tour through the West. In the course of his voyage down the Ohio he landed on Blennerhassett's Island, which an eccentric Irish gentleman of that name had transformed into an estate. At Cincinnati he was the guest of Senator John Smith; and there he met also Jonathan Dayton, who had just finished his term as Senator from New Jersey. Both of these individuals played an uncertain part in Burr's plans. At Nashville he visited General Andrew Jackson; at Fort Massac he spent four days in close conference with General James Wilkinson, who was in command of the Western army—one of the most precious rascals in the annals of the country; and at New Orleans he put himself in touch with the Mexican Association, which had been formed by ardent individuals who looked forward to war with Spain and the liberation of Mexico.
To men like Andrew Jackson and Daniel Clark, of New Orleans, whose loyalty is beyond question, Burr announced his purpose to devote his life to the overthrow of the Spanish power in America. It was a mission which commended itself to the Spanish-hating people of the Mississippi Valley. Western newspapers announced that he meditated some extraordinary enterprise; and one editor hinted that he was plotting a revolution which would end in the formation of a separate government for the region bordering on the Ohio and the Mississippi.
Returning to the East, Burr left no stone unturned in his efforts to find funds to finance this mysterious enterprise. He was in conference with Merry, the British minister, and with Yrujo, the Spanish minister; and each received a different impression as to the scope of his plans. At one time Burr talked madly of seizing the government at Washington. The kaleidoscopic changes of his plans baffle consistent explanation. One thing only is clear: he needed funds. These he obtained in part from his son-in-law, Joseph Alston, a wealthy planter in South Carolina, and in part from the credulous Blennerhassett, who was persuaded to purchase a million acres on the Washita River in northern Louisiana. Thither the expedition which started out from Blennerhassett's Island was ostensibly directed. How far Burr's plans went beyond the occupation of this tract is a matter of conjecture. One of Blennerhassett's servants may inadvertently have told the truth when he said that they were "going to take Mexico, one of the finest and richest places in the whole world."
If Burr seriously contemplated a filibustering expedition against Mexico, he was favored by circumstances. Spanish troops had taken up a position east of the Sabine River, on what was American soil; and only an overt act was needed to precipitate war. Every frontiersman was preparing for a tussle with the hated Spaniard. In the event of war Burr knew well enough that an expedition against Mexico would be countenanced by the government at Washington. Whether or no war with Spain would occur depended upon the cooperation of General Wilkinson, for he had been charged by the Secretary of War to take command of the troops at New Orleans with as little delay as possible and "to repel any invasion of the territory of the United States east of the river Sabine, or north and west of the bounds of what has been called West Florida."
The delay of Wilkinson in following these orders of May 6, 1806, has been explained on the supposition that he was awaiting the development of Burr's plans. Be that as it may, his hesitation was fatal to the conspirators. On September 27, the Spanish troops retired beyond the Sabine, thus removing an excellent pretext for war. From this time on Wilkinson's hand is against Burr. His conduct is enveloped in an atmosphere of intrigue. At one moment he is sending alarmist dispatches to the President, warning him against a mysterious expedition which was being prepared—by what authority he professed not to know—against the Spanish province of Mexico; at the next moment he is intriguing with the Spanish authorities, warning them against Burr and assuring them of his protection. This valuable information Wilkinson thought was worth about $111,000; but his aid-de-camp seems to have returned empty-handed from the City of Mexico. His further exploits in New Orleans, which he kept in a state of perpetual alarm and finally put under martial law, read like a chapter from a melodrama.
It was not until October, 1806, that President Jefferson expressed any serious concern about Burr's intrigues. Even then he concluded to send only a confidential agent to watch the conspirator and to arrest him if necessary. In November, dispatches from Wilkinson convinced the President of the need of more summary action. On November 27, he issued a proclamation, stating that sundry persons were confederating and conspiring together to begin a military expedition or enterprise against the dominions of Spain. Honest and well-meaning citizens were being seduced under various pretenses to engage in the criminal enterprises of these men. All faithful citizens and the civil and military authorities were therefore enjoined to be vigilant in preventing the expedition and in bringing the conspirators to punishment.
The President's proclamation wrought a transformation in the temper of the West. People reasoned that the danger must be greater than any one had suspected. The newspapers began to print wild stories. The Legislature of Ohio authorized the governor to take proper measures to prevent acts hostile to the United States. The governor promptly seized the bateaux which were being constructed at Marietta and called out the militia to overpower Blennerhassett and his followers. On the Virginia side of the river, the militia were in readiness for a descent upon the island. On the night of December 10, Blennerhassett and a handful of men left the island in such boats as they could find. Wild rumors followed the expedition as it floated peacefully down the Ohio. The Western Spy told its readers that Blennerhassett had passed Cincinnati in keel boats loaded with military stores; that more were to follow; and that twenty thousand men had been enlisted in an expedition against Mexico.
Meantime, Burr had met with embarrassing delays. The promised recruits had not come in, since war had not been declared. Only two of the five boats which Jackson had agreed to build were ready. Nevertheless, Burr left Nashville on December 23, as he had planned, and on the next day joined Blennerhassett at the mouth of the Cumberland. The combined strength of this flotilla which was causing such public consternation was nine bateaux, carrying less than sixty men.
The voyage of the expedition down the Ohio and the Mississippi was without incident until January 10, when the expedition put into Bayou Pierre, in the Mississippi Territory. There Burr was put under arrest and brought before a grand jury. Luck again favored him. As in Kentucky, so here the jurors failed to find any ground for indictment. Nevertheless, the judge bound Burr over to appear from day to day. Holding this proceeding unauthorized by law, Burr forfeited his bond and made his escape; but near Fort Stoddert, he was again apprehended. On March 5, 1807, he was sent with a guard of six men from Fort Stoddert to Richmond, Virginia.
The commitment, indictment, and trial of Aaron Burr form a fittingly inconclusive sequel to a strange tale of intrigue and misadventure. Not merely the fate of the accused man, but the personalities involved, gave a spectacular character to the legal proceedings at Richmond. Arrayed as counsel on the side of Burr were three notable attorneys from Virginia, and Luther Martin of Maryland. The foreman of the grand jury was John Randolph. The chief witness for the prosecution was General Wilkinson. The presiding judge was Chief Justice John Marshall, within whose circuit Blennerhassett's Island lay. And behind the prosecution, straining every nerve to secure the conviction of the conspirators, was President Thomas Jefferson.
From first to last the Chief Justice made the task of the prosecution exceedingly difficult by a rigorous definition of treason. Treason involved an overt act, he insisted; the actual levying of war by an assembling of armed men. To convict of treason, the testimony of two witnesses was required by the Constitution. Now, Burr was hundreds of miles away from Blennerhassett's Island when the alleged overt act of treason was committed. The court would not admit any testimony relative to the conduct and declarations of Burr elsewhere and subsequent to the transactions on Blennerhassett's Island. Such testimony was in its nature merely corroborative, the Chief Justice ruled, and inadequate to prove the overt act in itself, and therefore irrelevant until the overt act was proved by the testimony of two witnesses. On September 1, the prosecution abandoned the case, and the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. The Government now sought to secure the conviction of Burr on the charge of misdemeanor; but less than a week was needed to reveal the weakness of the testimony put forward by the prosecution. On September 15, Burr was again acquitted.
The New England conspiracy, the Yazoo controversy, and the intrigues of Burr, are admirably recounted by Henry Adams. His account may be corrected at various points, however, by consulting W. F. McCaleb, The Aaron Burr Conspiracy (1903). A brief account of the intrigues and plots of this time may be found in Channing, The Jeffersonian System, 1801-1811 (1906). The intrigues of the Federalists in New England have been described recently with new information by S. E. Morison, Life and Letters of Harrison Gray Otis (2 vols., 1913). Other biographies of importance are H. C. Lodge, Life and Letters of George Cabot (1877); James Parton, Life and Times of Aaron Burr (1858); J. S. Bassett, Life of Andrew Jackson (2 vols., 1911). The trial of Burr is described in popular fashion by F. T. Hill, Decisive Battles of the Law (1907). The origin and subsequent history of the Yazoo affair may be traced in C. H. Haskins, "The Yazoo Land Companies" (in the American Historical Association Papers, 1891).
The so-called Peace of Amiens in 1801 proved to be only an interlude in the wars of France with Europe. Within two years hostilities were renewed which closed only with the battle of Waterloo. In the course of this prolonged conflict Napoleon won and lost for France the ascendency in central and western Europe, but Great Britain remained throughout mistress of the seas. The commerce of France and of Holland and Spain, which had become virtually her dependencies, was almost driven from the seas. For their foodstuffs and colonial supplies, more than ever in demand as war devastated the fields of Europe, these nations had to look to vessels flying neutral flags. The export trade of the United States, which had fallen from $94,000,000 in the year 1801 to $55,800,000 in 1803, rapidly recovered until in 1805 it passed the high-water mark of the earlier year. More than half of this trade was in products of the tropics, for while the direct trade between the West India colonies and Europe was forbidden by the so-called "Rule of 1756," American shippers carried on a lucrative traffic which was virtually direct. Products brought from the West Indies to American ports were promptly reshipped as part of American stock to European ports; and the British courts had held that this importation had broken the voyage. When once import duties had been paid in an American port, the courts refused to inquire what thereafter became of the cargo and whether in fact rebates were given on exportation.
In midsummer of 1805 occurred a reversal of British policy. In the case of the Essex, which had made the voyage from Charleston to London with colonial produce from Martinique, a British admiralty court ruled for the first time that the payment of import duties was not sufficient proof of bona fide importation, because of the practice in the United States of repaying duties on exportation. Other seizures followed that of the Essex, to the consternation of American shippers. Insurance rates on cargoes were doubled and doubled again within a year. Early in 1806, Monroe, then Minister to England, wrote in protest to the British Ministry that "about one hundred and twenty vessels had been seized, several condemned, all taken from their course, detained, and otherwise subjected to heavy losses and damages." But Monroe could not obtain any concession of principle or promise of indemnity.
The policy which the Secretary of State was known to favor was that of coercing England through restrictions upon trade. The implications of this policy were suggested by his often-quoted remark touching upon the dependence of British manufacturers: "There are three hundred thousand souls who live by our custom: let them be driven to poverty and despair, and what will be the consequences?" He lost no opportunity to urge upon his party associates the need of passing retaliatory legislation against Great Britain. It was well known, of course, that the President would support any fair application of his theory of peaceable coercion.
At first there was a general disposition to try the effect of an embargo; but more prudent counsels prevailed when the news of Trafalgar reached America. Congress finally adopted, in April, 1806, a non-importation bill, which was to become effective eight months later. There was some point to Randolph's criticism when he declared it to be "a milk-and-water Bill. A dose of chicken broth to be taken nine months hence"; for the act prohibited only the importation of such English goods as could be manufactured in the United States or procured elsewhere. Such a measure was not likely to make the manufacturers of England quail. In the mean time, the Administration was to accomplish what it might by direct negotiation with the British Ministry, using this Nicholson Act as a covert threat. Much against his will, Jefferson had to nominate another envoy to act with Monroe. His choice fell upon William Pinkney, of Maryland. The friends of Madison were not unwilling to humiliate Monroe, whose presidential aspirations might interfere with Madison's succession, for Jefferson had let it be known as early as the summer of 1805 that he did not seek a reelection.
A few days after Congress adjourned occurred the Leander episode. This frigate was one of several British war vessels whose presence in American waters was a constant menace to merchantmen and an insult to the National Government. From time to time they appeared off Sandy Hook, lying in wait for American vessels which were suspected of carrying British seamen who had fled from the hard conditions of service on ships of war. An American merchantman was likely at any time to be stopped by a shot across her bow and to be subjected to the humiliation of a visit from a search crew. On April 25, 1806, the Leander, in rounding up a merchantman, fired a shot which killed the helmsman of a passing coasting sloop. The incident or accident threatened to assume the proportions of a casus belli.
The practice of impressment was an old grievance which seemed to Americans devoid of any justification. From the British point of view there was much to be said in extenuation of the practice. It should not be forgotten that Great Britain was locked in a life-and-death struggle with a mighty antagonist, and that she had need of every able seaman. Owing to the rigorous life on board of men-of-war, every ship's crew was likely to be depleted by desertions whenever she touched at an American port. Jack Tar found life much more agreeable on an American merchantman; and he rarely failed to procure the needful naturalization papers or certificates which would give him a claim to American citizenship. The right of expatriation was not at this time conceded by the British Government. Once an Englishman, always an Englishman. Surely, then, British commanders might claim their own seamen on the high seas. Officially, at least, they never claimed the right to impress American seamen. Yet where differences of speech were so slight, the provocation so strong, and the needs of the navy so great, search crews were not always careful to distinguish between Britishers and Yankees.
The United States never admitted the justice of these claims. To concede the right of search on the high seas was to admit a vast extension of British jurisdiction. As early as 1792, Jefferson had stated the principle for which the United States had consistently contended: "The simplest rule will be that the vessel being American shall be evidence that the seamen on board of her are such." The principle was never accepted by any British ministry. The practice of impressment continued to harass each succeeding administration. In 1806, a crisis seemed at hand. Madison reported to the House of Representatives the names of nine hundred and thirteen persons who appeared to have been impressed from American vessels. How many of these were British deserters under American names, it is impossible to say. The number reported by Madison is at least an index to the sense of injury which the nation felt.
When President Jefferson sent Pinkney to join Monroe in securing a comprehensive treaty with Great Britain, which should restore West India trade to its old condition and provide indemnity for the American vessels condemned in the admiralty courts, he set down, as a sine qua non in his instructions, the renunciation by the British Government of the practice of impressment. It was an ultimatum which expressed a truly national feeling; but with the consciousness of power which the domination of the high seas gave, the British commissioners treated this ultimatum, somewhat contemptuously, as an impossible and unwarranted demand. The American mission should have ended then and there; but on obtaining assurances that greater care would be exercised in impressing seamen, Monroe and Pinkney determined to disregard their instructions. Negotiations were continued and culminated in a treaty, December 1, 1806, which ran counter to the injunctions of the President in every particular. He refused to submit the document to the Senate. Nevertheless, he permitted Madison to draft new instructions for the commissioners, in the hope that the treaty could be made a basis for further negotiations. While these new instructions were crossing the ocean, a disaster occurred which brought the United States and Great Britain to the verge of war.