Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

23

CHAPTER II.

Important despatches received from the American envoys in Paris.

The lively indiguation excited. Measures of the Administration, Mr. Jefferson's views. The conduct of parties. Mischievous effect of party spirit. Letter to John Taylor of Caroline. The value of the Union. Arrival of American envoys from France. Their cordial reception. Dr. Logan. Illiberal suspicions against Mr. Jefferson. The Alien and Sedition laws. Their influence on the public sentiment. Measures of the Opposition. Letter to Mr. Gerry. Mr. Jefferson's sanguine temper. Its advantages.

1798.

While the nation was awaiting the result of the mission to France, the irritation in the minds of our citizens was kept up by the illegal captures of American vessels by French cruisers; but early in 1798, despatches were received from our envoys, which excited one general burst of indignation from the federal party, made converts of some of their opponents, and, for a time, silenced the favourers and apologists of France. Those gentlemen had been received with marked coldness and disrespect. They were not formally recognised, and finally were told that the only terms on which they could be permitted to negotiate was the payment of a large sum of money to the individuals then exercising the executive functions in France. The proposition was indeed made through the medium of informal agents, but pains were taken by our ministers to ascertain their authority, and the evidence of it was entirely satisfactory. These conditions, not more disgraceful to those who offered, than those who would accept them, opened the eyes of many who had believed in the sincerity of the professions made by the political leaders in France, and the only public voice which was distinctly audible, was one of indignation at this unmerited insult, and a determination to assert the rights of the nation at all hazards.

Before these despatches arrived, the proposition to allow our vessels to arm, for the purpose of defending themselves from the French cruisers, had been discussed in Congress, and postponed by a small majority; and, in the large towns, public opinion was either equally divided on the question, or was against it. In March was received the French decree, which made the vessel friendly or enemy, according to the hands by which the cargo was manufactured. This produced great sensation among the merchants, and it was feared it would throw American shipping out of employment, as British bottoms, which alone had the benefit of convoy, would have the return cargoes. Mr. Jefferson remarks in a letter to Mr. Madison, of March 21st, “Notwithstanding this decree, the sentiments of the merchants become more and more cooled and settled down against arming. Yet it is believed that the Representatives do not cool; and though we think the question against arming will be carried, yet probably, by a majority of only four or five. Their plan is to have convoys furnished for our vessels going to Europe, and smaller vessels for the coasting defence.” This decree, he says, operated on the merchants as a sedative, producing more alarm than resentment, but it had the effect of increasing the resentment of the war party.

On the 19th of March the president informed the two Houses of Congress that despatches had been received from our envoys to France, and that they afforded no grounds to expect that the objects of their mission could be accomplished, consistent with the honour and interests of the nation; he therefore renewed his recommendation to put the country in a state of defence, by providing military

stores, and an efficient revenue; and that, under existing circumstances, he had withdrawn the instructions to the custom-house officers to restrain armed vessels from leaving our ports, except in particular cases.

Mr. Jefferson, in the same letter of March 21st, writes that this “insane message” produced great effect. “Exultation on one side, and a certainty of victory; while the other is petrified with astonishment.”

He says that, supposing their party had the majority of one vote, he had suggested two things : “1. As the president declares he has withdrawn the executive prohibition to arm, that Congress should renew the same prohibition. 2. That they should adjourn, in order to go home and consult their constituents on the present crisis of American affairs.” He suggests, in favour of this last course, that besides gaining time enough by this, to allow the descent on England to have its effect here as well as there, “it will be a means of exciting the whole body of the people from the state of inattention in which they are; it will require every member to call for the sense of his district by petition or instruction; it will show the people with which side of the House their safety, as well as their rights, rest, by showing them which is for war and which for peace, and their representatives will return here invigorated by the avowed support of the American people."

“We see a new instance of the inefficiency of constitutional guards. We had relied, with great security, on that provision which requires two-thirds of the legislature to declare war*. But this is completely eluded by a majority's taking such measures as will be sure to produce war."

As he could find no consideration of interest or honour

* Here is an instance of inaccuracy, which, in him, is very remarkable, in supposing that two-thirds of the Legislature must concur in a declaration of war.-Jeff. Corr. III. 381,

that was sufficient to justify war, he resorts to other views, and does not hesitate to impute the strong disposition for it, either to a wish to strengthen the government or to dissolve the Union.

In a subsequent letter to Mr. Madison he speaks of some papers signed “ Marcellus,” and which were generally attributed to Hamilton. He entreats Mr. Madison to take

up his pen against “this champion,” adding, “You know the ingenuity of his talents, and there is not a person but yourself who can foil him.”

On the 8th of April the Senate decided on publishing the despatches from our envoys, and on the following day, he communicated them in substance to Mr. Madison.

In speaking of the proposition to pay a large sum, upwards of a million sterling, as a preliminary to negotiation, he makes no comment, nor expresses a doubt of their authenticity; but remarks that “arguments which Talleyrand's agent made in support of his base propositions were very unworthy of a great nation, if they could be imputed to it, and are calculated to excite disgust and indignation generally, and alienation in the republicans particularly, whom they so far mistake, as to presume an attachment to France and hatred to the federal party, and not the love of country, to be their first passion. No difficulty was expressed towards an adjustment of all differences and misunderstandings, or even ultimately a payment for spoliations, if the insult from our executive in his opening speech to Congress in May last could be wiped away.

The little slanderous imputations before mentioned has been the bait which hurried the opposite party into this publication.” Mr. Jefferson admitted that the first impressions with the people would be disagreeable, but supposed that the permanent one would be, that the president's speech was the only obstacle to accommodation. He thought that the papers did not offer one cause the more

for going to war; but that such was their effect on the minds of wavering characters, that he feared they would, by way of avoiding the imputation of being French partisans, be in favour of war measures.

Such was not the judgment of the nation on these base proposals. While we here see an example of how party zeal is capable of biassing judgments of the strongest minds, we find that the more unsophisticated feelings of the people came to a decision more in accordance with the opinions of the world in general, and of posterity. They regarded a proposal which could not have been accepted without meanness and degradation, as one which should not only be promptly rejected, but which should be regarded as a national insult, and treated it accordingly. Mr. Jefferson thus adverts to its effect on the public mind :—"The most artful misrepresentations of the contents of these papers were published yesterday, and produced such a shock in the republican mind, as had never been seen since our independence;" but added, “we are to dread the effects of this dismay till their fuller information."

A week afterwards, April 12, he again wrote to urge Mr. Madison to take up his pen, for the purpose of placing things in their just attitude, as on this depended “the inchoate movement on the eastern mind, and the fate of the pending elections in that quarter. Assuring him that a well-digested analysis of these papers would decide the future state of things, which were then on the turn.”

It was in this moment of general indignation that the foundation was laid for a navy, and consequently for the naval department; a provisional army of 20,000 men was authorized, a tax on stamps had been previously laid, and a direct tax on lands was also resorted to. Dreading the influence of the press in misleading the public mind, and diverting its just indignation, or perhaps merely hating it,

« ПредишнаНапред »