Page images

Jefferson hoped, that the Federalists, taken by surprise, would not dare to oppose this popular proposition of peace; that, if the season could be gained, the Democratic party would be saved, that the affairs of Europe would save them; but he feared that they would be "borne down, and was under the most gloomy apprehensions." * An alliance, offensive and defensive, with Great Britain, he apprehended, might be the result; and a rumor was circulated, that such a pact was in contemplation.

The debate on these resolutions marked the temper of the House. A leading Federalist avowed his belief, that the time was not far distant when war must be resorted to, or the national honor and interest be abandoned. To forbear to declare war was a sufficient expression of their sentiments, wherefore pass this negative resolution? It was only a text from which it was intended to alarm the people. The opposition were called upon to adopt the language of the Constitution, and to propound the question, was it expedient "to declare war?" This was refused, for the "pacific resolutions had not been the work of a moment."

Baldwin, Gallatin, Giles and Nicholas, were conspicuous supporters of these resolutions. They insisted, that the language of the President amounted to a declaration of war; that such a war would be a war of extermination, and that Congress were bound to interpose their check upon any measures of such a tendency. The moment we went beyond our jurisdictional line, Giles remarked, "defence will become offence. The House was acting in the dark; something was not correct, which was the reason the expected papers were not sent." He

* Jefferson to Madison, iii. 382. March 29.

insisted, that France had heavy complaints, arising principally from the operation of the British treaty, that fatal instrument to the United States. Her decree against - neutral commerce he condemned, but we exported to France and nations under her influence thirty-six millions of dollars-to Great Britain only eight. Against whom are we to arm? Against those who receive thirty-six millions for the protection of the eight millions, two-thirds of which are re-exported. Perhaps it may be said, what will you do, if France carries her injuries further? "I would," he avowed, "draw ourselves within our shells. I would sooner (though I do not pledge myself to do it) indemnify our commercial citizens than go to war. I am now, and always have been for peace."

"Have we any other choice," Harper inquired, "but to resist, or to submit? Was not this clamor for peace, to declare we must submit not only to the injuries we have received, but to whatever may follow? You desire peace! What was the spirit of the peace you wish to preserve ?-a spirit which he deemed vile submission-a spirit which was afraid to complain, and which met every new insult without murmur. We are told, when an invasion is attempted, it will then be time to prepare for war. He apprehended, that the same spirit which led them now to submit, would induce them then to surrender."

The debate was interrupted by the motion of a Fed eralist calling for a disclosure of the correspondence of the envoys, or, of such parts as considerations of public safety and interest would, in the opinion of the President, permit. Livingston moved to expunge the qualification, and to insert a demand for the instructions. A new disIt was opposed by those The debate on the peace

cussion arose upon this motion. who condemned the precedent.

proposition was in the mean time resumed, and a decision was earnestly requested; but the resolution calling for the papers and instructions passed, and the following day they were transmitted to the House. The attempt to precommit it against a declaration of war was then abandoned.

The introduction of these resolutions evinced either the greatest temerity in the opposition, or conviction of the pusillanimity of the nation. The extent to which the public mind had been poisoned by foreign influence excited alarm; and, the question seemed to be, as Hamilton had stated it, "whether we shall retain our independ ence?" But still it was not so viewed by the people at large. No indications were seen of that rising of national feeling which the crisis ought to have produced. There was indeed a foreboding silence, but whether that silence indicated submission or resistance, it was impossible to determine.

Hamilton could not believe that the American people had so soon and so much degenerated. He could not believe that the spirit of the Revolution was altogether gone. He saw around him, yet surviving, most of his comrades in that glorious strife. He would not indulge the degrading supposition, that in his own bosom burned more ardently than among millions of his countrymen the sacred flame of patriotism.

In his letter to Pickering he had advised, as seen," a temperate but grave, solemn, and firm communication from the President, reviewing summarily the course of our affairs with France." Hamilton advised this review, because he saw that the prolixity of the discussions between the United States and France, and her repeated misstatements of the questions at issue, had left upon the great mass of the community, no distinct, definite impressions. Her injuries VOL. VII.-8

had been so often veiled or excused by the Democratic leaders that he felt it of the highest importance they should clearly perceive their true position before they entered upon this great and hazardous contest.

Similar advice was given by him to Sedgewick:

"The President ought to make a solemn and manly communication to Congress. The language grave and firm, but without invective-in which, after recapitulating the progress of our controversy with France the measures taken towards accommodation and stating their degrading result, he ought to advert to the extremely critical posture of Europe, the excessive pretensions of France externally, her treatment of the neutral powers generally, and dwelling emphatically on the late violent invasion of their commerce, as an act destructive of the independence of nations-to state that eventual dangers of the most serious kind hang over us, and that we ought to consider ourselves as bound to provide with the utmost energy for the immediate security of our invaded rights and for the ultimate defence of our liberty and independence, and conclude with a recommendation in general terms to adopt efficient measures for increasing our revenue, for protecting our commerce, for guarding our seaports, and ultimately for repelling invasion -intimating, also, that the relations of treaty which have subsisted between us and France, and which have been so entirely disregarded by her, ought not to remain by our constitution and laws binding upon us, but ought to be suspended in their operations, till an adjustment of differences shall re establish a basis of connection and intercourse between the two countries, taking especial care, however, that merely defensive views be indicated."

After a recapitulation, though more at large, of the measures proposed by him to Pickering, he remarked:

"These measures to a feeble mind may appear gigantic. To yours they can only appear excessive, as far as it may seem impracticable to get them adopted. For my part, I contemplate the possible overthrow of England, certainly of invasion, and the duty and practicability, in that event, of defending our honor and our rights.

"Let the President also call to his aid the force of religious ideas by a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer. This will be in my opin

ion no less proper in a political than a religious view. We must oppose to political fanaticism religious zeal. I do not enter into a detail of reasons for the respective measures. They will all occur to you. I consider the independence of nations as threatened, and I am willing to encounter every extremity in the preservation of ours.

"In all our measures, however, let it be seen, that final rupture is desired to be avoided, as far as may consist with security, and the United States still stand ready to accommodate. I write in extreme haste.

"P. S. I beseech you, exert yourself to induce the New England Representatives, if not already done, to forward the bill for providing an indifferent mode of trial in cases in which States are concerned. Without it, a civil war may ensue between us and Connecticut, and the Federal interest will at any rate be much injured."

This last remark was in allusion to a territorial controversy between New York and Connecticut, as to which a trial was had at Hartford, where, contending for the rights of New York, Hamilton made one of his most distinguished forensic efforts.

Deeply moved by the menacing aspect of public affairs, he now resolved again to arouse and to direct the feelings of the people. Selecting the signature of "Titus Manlius," as commemorative of the successful stand taken by the ancient republicans of Rome against the invasion of the Gauls, he published, on the thirtieth of March, a series of essays entitled "THE STAND."

His opening remarks exhibit his own impressions as to the state of the public feeling.

"The enlightened friends of America never saw," he observed, "greater occasion of disquietude than at the present juncture.

"Our nation, through its official organs, has been treated with studied contempt and systematic insult; essential rights of the country are perseveringly violated; and its independence and liberty eventually threatened, by the most flagitious, despotic, and vindictive government that ever disgraced the annals of mankind, by a government

« PreviousContinue »