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France, and delayed by the time necessary to decipher their communications, the President only transmitted their last dispatch, bearing date the eighth of January. It enclosed a message from the Directory, urging a law to declare as good prize all neutral ships having on board merchandises and commodities, the production of England, or of her possessions, so that the flag might no longer cover the property; and declaring, that, except in case of distress, the ports of France should be shut against all neutral ships which in the course of their voyage, shall have touched at an English port. It also stated, that no hope existed of their being officially received, or that the objects of their mission would be in any way accomplished.
Cotemporaneously with this message a circular was addressed to all the Diplomatic agents and consuls of France within the United States, announcing the intended descent upon England, and stimulating them to form an active and jealous league against her, for the professed object of establishing the "liberty of the seas."
The situation of this country called for immediate action, and a report was made to the House of Representatives, proposing the equipment of the frigates,—the purchase of armed vessels for the defence of the coast,-the establishment of foundries, the appointment of a Commissioner of Marine in the War department, and further appropriations for fortifications. Urgent as the motives to these measures were, Congress remained quiescent.*
"What anarchical notions," Ames observed, "we find prevailing! What other Government find the elements of discord and dissolution so powerful within its very bosom! Everywhere, out of the United States, the Gov. ernment, good or bad, has the power to act or forbear acting. Its difficulti and the menaced resistance to its action lie without; here, they ap within The machinery of our Government, as understood by Gallatin & Co., is made to stand still-not to go."
The leaders of the Democratic party triumphed at this indecision. Their presses, to enfeeble the popular feeling, imputed the conduct of France to the irritating proceedings of the Administration;* openly defended the decree which would have put an end to all neutrality, and demanded why the President had mysteriously withheld the official documents? England, they alleged, commenced the aggressions upon neutral commerce. France was compelled to retaliate. It would be unjustifiable in the United States to resort to arms; nor was this decree alone defensible on that ground, it would militate only against England,-to America it might prove beneficial.†
In vain were the alarming tidings from Europe received. Intelligence of an incipient Revolution in Holland, by which the last vestiges of her independence were effaced-Holland, a nation to whom the United States owed such large obligations.-Information that Switzerland had become the prey of French faction and intrigue, Switzerland, the eldest republic of modern Europe-Advices that both the Councils of France had unanimously sanctioned the atrocious decree against neutral commerce
* Madison to Jefferson, Feb. 12, 1798. "France will not acquiesce under the advantage which that insidious instrument" (the British treaty) "gives to her enemy" stating that we had thereby "stipulated that Britain may plunder us."
Jefferson to Madison, iii. 378, March 15, 1798. "The French decree has produced a great sensation among the merchants here. Its operation is not yet perhaps well understood; but probably it will put our shipping out of competition, because British bottoms, which can come under convoy, will alone be trusted with return cargoes. Ours, losing this benefit, would need a higher freight out, in which, therefore, they will be underbid by the British. They must then retire from the competition. Some, no doubt, will try other channels of commerce, and return cargoes from other countries. This effect would be salutary." "Another good effect" adverted to was, the "checking and withdrawing our extensive commerce and navigation within those bounds to which peace must necessarily bring them."
-so entirely all resistance had ceased-all freedom of opinion been extinguished-The recent violation of the American territory by a French privateer; plundering and burning a merchant vessel in the harbor of Charleston-none of all these events produced any impression. on the leaders of the Democracy. The contemplated descent upon England was the great event to which they looked. The means were discussed, the visionary projects of the impious Paine* deemed probable;—and an attempt, which Bonaparte then rejected as a "barbarous incursion." they hailed as the consummation of their hopes. Her downfall was to insure their elevation.
* Paine, a native of England, framed a plan for raising the requisite funds, and proposed to cross the Channel with gunboats.
"Mais il sentait que conquerir le pays, s'y établir serait impossible; qu'on pourrait seulement le ravager, lui enlever une partie de ses richeses, le reculer, l'annuler pour un demi-siecle, mais qu'il faudrait y sacrifier l'armée qu'on y aurait amenée, et revenir presque seul, apres une espece d'incursion barbare." Thiers, t. 10, p. 14.
WITH intense anxiety, Hamilton awaited the result of the mission. As a mean either of averting war, or of uniting the American people, he had advised it; and, when he was compelled to fear that neither of these ends had been attained, his solicitude rose to the highest point. The President had submitted to his cabinet, some time before, questions as to the course to be pursued in case this overture should fail. These questions were transmitted to Hamilton for his advice by the Secretary at War. He bestowed upon them the most serious reflection. The result was communicated to McHenry, and by him, with slight modifications, embodied in a report to the President. The substance is given in a letter of the seventeenth of March, addressed, before the aggravated insults which had been heaped upon the envoys were known to him, by Hamilton to Pickering:
"I make no apology for offering you my opinion on the present state of our affairs. I look upon the question before the public as nothing less than whether we shall maintain our independence; and I am prepared to do it in every event, and at every hazard. I am therefore of opinion, that our Executive should come forward on this basis.
"I wish to see a temperate but grave, solemn, and firm communication from the President to the two Houses on the result of the advices from our Commissioners. This communication to review summarily the course of our affairs with France from the beginning to the
present moment; to advert to her conduct towards the neutral powers generally, dwelling emphatically on the last decree respecting vessels carrying British manufactures, as an unequivocal act of hostility against all of them; to allude to the dangerous and vast projects of the French Government; to consider her refusal to receive our minister as a virtual denial of our independence, and as evidence, that, if circumstances favor the plan, we shall be called to defend that independence, our political institutions, and our liberty against her enterprises; to conclude, that, leaving still the door to accommodation open, and not proceeding to final rupture, our duty, our honor, and safety, require that we shall take vigorous and comprehensive measures of defence, adequate to the immediate protection of our commerce, to the security of our ports, and to our eventual defence, in case of invasion; and with a view to these great objects, calling forth and organizing all the resources of the country. I would, at the same time, have the President to recommend a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer. The occasion renders it proper, and religious ideas will be useful. I have this last measure at heart.
"The measures to be advocated by our friends in Congress to be these:-I. Permission to our merchant vessels to arm and to capture those which may attack them. II. The completion of our frigates, and the provision of a considerable number of sloops of war, not exceeding twenty guns.* Authority to capture all attacking, and privateers found within twenty leagues of our coast. III. Power to the President, in general terms, to provide and equip ten ships of the line, in case of open rupture with any foreign power. IV. The increase of our military establishment to twenty thousand, and a provisional army of thirty thousand, besides the militia. V. The efficacious fortification of our principal ports-say Portsmouth, Boston, Newport, New London, New York, Philadelphia, Norfolk, Baltimore, Wilmington, N. C., Charleston, Savannah. "Tis waste of money to be more diffusive. VI. The extension of our revenue to all the principal objects of taxation, and a loan commensurate with the contemplated expenditures. VII. The suspension of our treaties with France, till a basis of connection shall be re-established by treaty.
"In my opinion, bold language and bold measures are indispensable. The attitude of calm defiance suits us. It is vain to talk of
*"To serve as convoys."