Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

popular huzzas which were everywhere heard for the new administration.

One of the favourite political objects of Mr. Jefferson, in common with the whole republican party, was the discharge of the public debt. He believed that in creating a class of men of influence who were interested in supporting the measures of government, more mischief was likely to be done in aiding it to enlarge its powers, than good in assisting to preserve the Union, which he believed could be maintained by no means so effectually as by a mild, economical, and beneficent course of policy. He always supposed that it was the purpose of Alexander Hamilton not to pay off the debt, or even to lessen it, but rather to increase it; and that with this view, he had rendered it so complicated as to make its real state unintelligible to the nation. In truth the leading politicians of both parties had not yet sufficiently learnt to disengage themselves from European notions in policy and government, but unconsciously adopted principles and maxims from that quarter, and especially from England, which were inapplicable to the peculiar circumstances of the United States; and some of which time had shown to be erroneous everywhere. Both Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Hamilton seemed to have been thus led into a course of false reasoning on this subject. The former, convinced of the ruinous consequences of a large public debt, from the speculations of all the best English political writers, and of its tendency to increase after a beginning was once made, deprecated the creation of a national debt here as fraught with the same mischiefs as it produced, and the same dangers it threatened in England. Influenced by these views, the effect of our rapid increase in numbers and wealth, in gradually lightening the public burdens, was not sufficiently regarded. If we compare the debt of the United States in the beginning of General Washington's administration with that of England, we find that here the proportion of debt was but twenty dollars to each individual, and of annual interest but one dollar : whereas, in England the proportion of the debt was more than two hundred dollars to each person, and of interest, , eight dollars ; and moderate as was this comparative burthen, it must, in the nature of things, continually diminish. In Mr. Jefferson's administration the proportion of debt to each individual had already declined to ten dollars. In the year 1830, it was reduced to less than four dollars, and the annual interest to about sixteen cents ; though in the intervening time, it had been more than doubled by the purchase of Louisiana and Florida, and the war of 1813. Nor were those calculations of the future better founded, which regarded the public debt as an important cement of the Union; because the proportion of the fundholders always bore an insignificant proportion to the whole number of voters, and that proportion was constantly growing less, even had the debt remained stationary. The support to the government from this class of men was equally overrated by both parties; and therefore it was that as a party, the republicans viewed the funding system with unwarranted fear and apprehension, and the others, the federalists, with extravagant favour and approbation.

Entertaining such views, Mr. Jefferson patriotically lost no time in adopting measures which would, in a given term, and that not a long one, extinguish the debt; and of simplifying the whole system of finance. With this view, Mr. Gallatin, the secretary of the treasury, in the first year of the administration, had set about providing an adequate sinking fund, by which the debt would be discharged in about fifteen years, and the operation of which every one was able to understand and appreciate. On the 1st of April, 1801, Mr. Jefferson addressed a letter to him on this subject, in which, after approving the secretary's plan of having one aggregate fund from which every thing was to be paid, he further suggests that all the money in the treasury should form a consolidated mass, from which the whole expenditure should be paid, and should have preference in the following order-1. The interest of the public debt. 2. Such parts of the principal as the creditors had a right to demand. 3. The expenses of the government. 4. Such parts of the debt as the government had the right of paying. To this he proposes that degree of clearness and simplicity in the accounts that every intelligent man in the Union could readily understand them and detect abuses. “ Our predecessors,” he remarks, “ have endeavoured by intricacies of system, and shuffling over the investigation from one officer to another, to cover every thing from detection. I hope we shall go in the contrary direction, and that by our honest and judicious reformations, we may be able, within the limits of our time, to bring things back to that simple and intelligible system on which they should have been organized at first.” He further proposed a reduction in the officers of the treasury to a keeper of the money, a keeper of accounts, and the head of the department; but this reform, it would seem, was not found advisable, as it was never tried.

On the general pacification of Europe in 1801, it appeared that Spain had ceded Louisiana to France, in pursuance of a wish which had been long entertained by the French government, and as had been several years before predicted. As soon as the fact was certainly known in the United States, which was in the spring of 1802, it filled the whole United States with anxiety and apprehension. The possession of the port of New Orleans had been long known to have a most important bearing on the connexion between the Atlantic and the western States. The Mississippi afforded the only outlet for the great and rapidly increasing amount of products of the west which sought a foreign market, and

in war.

they could not avail themselves of it without a place of deposit, such as New Orleans, where those products could be re-shipped in sea vessels. If, then, this port was in the hands of a foreign power, it could always be used either in the way of a bribe or a threat to operate on the people of the west to detach them from the other States. And though their attachment to the Union should prove strong enough to resist such influences, it would be only on condition of asserting their rights and supporting such vital interests by force, if it was necessary, and thus involving the nation

If this evil was felt to be sufficiently great when Spain owned Louisiana, how much would it be enhanced when her rights were transferred to a nation so powerful, enterprising, and ambitious as the French republic, and which had been for some time alienated from the United States. Supposing too this danger removed, and the right of deposit secured, the United States could not see with indifference so formidable a power as France planting a colony along her borders, by which they would be hemmed in, and flanked on the north and the south by the two most potent nations on the globe. In this position causes of collision would be likely to occur, and pretexts would never be wanting, when the neighbouring States presented such a prize to tempt the ambition of France. The alarm was the greater from the recollection of the many European nations which had been recently either won by the arts, or subdued by the arms of the French republic. So lively and general were these apprehensions, that it is believed the American people would have been willing to incur the certain evils of war at once, rather than have risked the dangers they apprehended. They were fortunately relieved from this alternative by a lucky occasion, dexterously improved by Mr. Jefferson and his cabinet.

Having learnt of the cession of Louisiana, he, on the 18th

was one

[ocr errors]

of April, 1802, addressed a long letter to Mr. Livingston in Paris on the subject, in which he unfolds, with great clearness and force, the new attitude in which the transfer of that country would place the United States and France towards each other. He says, “ it completely reverses all the relations of the United States.” That hitherto they “regarded France as their natural friend.' That there “ single spot on the globe, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy;" which spot was New Orleans,

through which the produce of three-eighths of our territory must pass to market, and ere long yield more than half of our whole produce.” That this could not be possessed by France with the same prospect of quiet as by Spain, who was both feeble and pacific, and who might ere long find it convenient to exchange it for something of more value.

“ But as to France, the impetuosity of her temper, the

energy

and restlessness of her character, placed in a point of eternal friction with us—and our character, which, though quiet, and loving peace and the pursuit of wealth, is high-minded; despising wealth in competition with insult or injury; enterprising and energetic as any nation on the earth”—these circumstances rendered it impossible that France and the United States could long continue friends, when they meet in so irritable a position. That from the moment France took“ possession of New Orleans, we must ally ourselves with Great Britain, and turn our attention to a maritime force, for which we have such ample resources; the certain consequence of which would be the destruction of any settlement she may have made on any part of this continent, the first breaking out of war in Europe, and the loss of New Orleans." That this measure was deprecated not from fear of France, but " from the wish to preserve peace, and our present friendly relations with her.” He asks whether for “ such a short-lived possession of New Orleans France will

on

« ПредишнаНапред »