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On the 21st of April terminated this session, which, though not unusually long, was one of the most animated and contentious. The House of Representatives now manifestly consisted of three parties, as besides the two known divisions of republicans and federalists, there was a schism of the former, who differed from the administration on some leading points of foreign policy, and who while they voted with the federalists on these questions, and on some collateral points, so as to show a diminished confidence and good feeling towards the executive, took especial care not to be considered by the nation as being merged in the federal party, not only by their general declarations, but by their votes on all questions not involving the policy of the administration, on which occasions they concurred with the republicans. This party consisted principally of members from the Virginia delegation, and were all personally intimate with Mr. Randolph. The same party afterwards received a great accession of strength in Virginia, by bringing forward Mr. Monroe as a candidate for the presidency, in opposition to Mr. Madison, and it was not until the reconciliation of these gentlemen by the good offices of Mr. Jefferson, that its ranks were broken as a party, and that some of the scattered fragments united with the federalists, in opposition to the war and all the leading measures of the administration which preceded it.
Efforts to make the purchase of Florida. Embassy to France. Letter
to Wilson C. Nicholas. Disposition of parties towards England and France. Policy of the administration. Letter to William DuaneTo the Emperor of Russia. Rival candidates for the presidency. Letter to Mr. Monroe. Negotiation with England. The appropriation of two millions. Letter to Mr. Gallatin. Annual message. Proposes amendments to the Constitution. Repeal of non-importation law. Burr's projects. Measures of the administration to defeat them. Bill for suspending the Habeas Corpus passes the Senate-Rejected by the House. System of national defence. Suppression of African Slave trade. Letter to John Dickinson-To Wilson C. Nicholas.
Let us turn to the measures of the administration abroad. As soon as Congress had decided on making the appro. priation of two millions for the purchase of Florida, the President determined on making a last effort to effect an amicable settlement at Paris of all matters of dispute with Spain. He appointed General Armstrong, of New York, and Mr. Bowdoin, of Massachusetts, joint commissioners for that purpose, and proposed to add Colonel Wilson C. Nicholas, of Virginia, as a third. But on that gentleman's declining the mission, the whole was left to the management of the two first. In a subsequent letter he remarks to Colonel Nicholas, that," an unjust hostility against General Armstrong will, I am afraid, show itself whenever any treaty made by him shall be offered for ratification." He regrets the absence of his former senators, Mr. Giles and Colonel Nicholas himself. “ A majority of the Senate," he says, “ means well. But Tracy and Bayard are too dexterous for them, and have very much influenced their proceedings. Tracy has been of nearly every committee during the session, and for the most part the chairman, and of course drawer of the reports. Seven federalists voting always in phalanx, and joined by some discontented republicans, some oblique ones, some capricious, have so often made a majority, as to produce very serious embarrassment to the public operations; and very much do I dread submitting to them, at the next session, any treaty which can be made with either England or Spain, when I consider that five joining the federalists can defeat a friendly settlement of our affairs."* Alluding to Randolph's late course, he remarks, “ the defection of so prominent a leader threw them into dismay and confusion for a moment; but they soon rallied to their own principles, and let him go off with five or six followers only. One half of these are from Virginia. His late declaration of perpetual opposition to this administration drew off a few others who at first had joined him, supposing his opposition occasional only and not systematic. The alarm the House has had from this schism, has produced a rallying together and a harmony, which carelessness and security had begun to endanger.”
It would seem that the ostensible grounds of division among the republican party were as to the course to be pursued towards England and Spain. Many of those who had once warmly espoused the cause of France, as that of civil liberty, and who had even found forgiveness or excuse for the worst excesses of the revolution, had greatly cooled in their affection after Bonaparte had been permitted to exercise his sovereign power under the title of first consul. But when he threw aside the forms and name of a repub
* The Senate then consisted of thirty-four members, and two thirds being necessary to the ratification of a treaty, it of course required twenty-three members.
lican, and assumed the title of Emperor, and when it was seen that all France either acquiesced or openly rejoiced in the change, their hopes of support to the cause of liberty, from this powerful nation, were entirely extinguislied. They saw in the French emperor a new and more formidable enemy to free government and national independence ; and in the same degree that he became an object of dread or aversion, was England regarded with sentiments of conciliation and respect. This alteration of feeling, it must be confessed, extended to but a small portion of the community. The great mass of the nation, especially of those who called themselves republicans, were slow to change their national animosities and predilections. Long attached to France, first as an ally in the American revolution, and then as a fellow labourer in the republican cause, they soon loved it for its own sake, and were disposed to tolerate, if not approve every thing that was there done; and the victories won by French armies under the auspices of Napoleon, gave them almost the same satisfaction as when they were fighting for the right of self-government.
There were others of the republicans who, though they regarded Napoleon as an apostate from the principles which he had professed, and as intoxicated with the love of that power to which his talents and fortune had elevated him, yet apprehended no danger to our institutions from his success, and still less, conceived that Great Britain was fighting the case of mankind. They saw in the contest between France and England two mighty nations inflamed by a long course of hostility and rivalry, struggling for the mastery, and, which ever should obtain it, that the victory would be sure to be abused, not only towards the vanquished foe, but to all the rest of the world. Nor did the conquerors of Europe lord it with a harsher or more absolute sway on the land, than the English did on the ocean. It so happened, moreover, that the people of the United States were more exposed to this tyranny, and had even an experimental knowledge of it, whereas the other they only knew by report ; and report too, which, coming through suspicious channels, did not receive implicit credit. They therefore thought that the United States were interested in wishing that neither nation should prevail in the contest farther than to lessen the other's power of doing inischief; or if we were more interested in wishing success to one party rather than the other, that our friendship could not much assist either, but would materially injure ourselves, by depriving us of the benefits of our neutral position ; and that therefore a pacific policy was imperiously enjoined on us. Such are believed to have been the sentiments of Mr. Jefferson, and of his cabinet at this time. They knew that peace was the real interest of the country, and they determined to spare no pains to preserve it, notwithstanding the perpetual provocations received from Great Britain by the impressment of American seamen, and by interruptions of American commerce, and although it was also endangered on the part of her great rival, in consequence of our misunderstanding with Spain. And as when a similar pacific policy had prevailed in General Washington's administration, the more ardent portion of the republicans wished to urge the United States in a war against the enemies of France, so now, most of the federalists would have had the nation throw its weight into the scale with England; and it is believed that the small band of seceders from the republican party united with them in this feeling, and made the querulous and jealous temper exhibited by Spain the pretext for furthering their more important purpose.