« PreviousContinue »
events, without those efficient preparations which are demanded by so precarious a situation; and which, not provoking war, would put us in condition to meet it. All the consolation I can give is, that the public temper of this country mends daily, and that there is no final danger of our submitting tamely to the yoke of France." *
On the same day, he wrote to the Secretary of the Treasury. Having answered an inquiry as to the power of the Commissioners under the British treaty, he proceeds:
"I like very well the course of Executive conduct in regard to the controversy with France, and I like the Answer of the Senate in regard to the President's speech. But, I confess, I have not been well satisfied with the Answer reported in the House. It contains too many hard expressions; and hard words are very rarely useful in public proceedings. Mr. Jay and other friends here have been struck in the same manner with myself. We shall not regret to see the Answer softened down. Real firmness is good for every thing. Strut is good for nothing."
Looking to the necessity of reinforcing the revenue, he renewed his proposal of a tax on buildings-avoiding the necessity of valuations; and advising that the idea of a tax on land be deferred. He then gives his plan of ways and means for the present-a tax of a million of dollars on buildings; of half a million on stamps, including a small per centage on policies of insurance; and a per centage on collateral successions; a duty on hats; another on saddle horses; and a duty on salt to make up a total of two millions of dollars. He also advised "a remodification of the duties on licenses to sell spirituous liquors by multiplying discriminations."
He next proposed a loan for five millions to be paid absolutely within five years-allowing a high interest, say
* Hamilton's Works, vi. 252-to King.
of eight per cent., (having in view the state of the money market,) redeemable at pleasure, and receiving subscrip tions as low as one hundred dollars. In case of pressure, Treasury bills at a like interest to be used. "If," he adds, "unfortunately war breaks out, then every practicable object of taxation should at once be seized hold of, so as to carry our revenue, in the first instance, to the extent of our ability. Nor is the field narrow. I give you my ideas full gallop and without management of expression. I hope you always understand me right, as they are intended in the spirit of friendly frankness." A detail of the House tax plan was subjoined. Two days after, he again wrote to him:
"The last of your letters announced to me no more than I feared. Nor do I believe any sufficient external impulse can be given to save us from disgrace. This, however, will be thought of." He then combats his objection to his plan of taxation, observing, "The truth is a solid one, that the sound state of the political economy depends, in a great degree, on a general repartition of taxes on taxable property, by some equal rule. But it is very important to relax in theory, so as to accomplish as much as may be practicable." He is seen to have early condemned the arbitrary mode of valuation by assessment, in the most pointed terms, as one which "the genius of liberty reprobates." *
To supersede it, he then proposed a system of "specific taxation." Time and observation confirmed his early opinions, and he now again recommended it, as far as the present exigencies appeared to demand additional resources. Happy will it be for this country, in many respects, when the public mind shall correct the prevailing injustice resulting from "discretionary taxation."
Having given the Executive the means of opening a new negotiation with France, the Senate proceeded with
* In 1782. Hamilton's Works i. 199
vigor and despatch to effect the important objects for which Congress were convened—the protection of com merce-preparations against hostilities, should the nego tiation fail-an increase of revenue.
The President had stated, that the greater part of the cruisers which had committed depredations had been built, and some of them partially equipped in the United States. This was an evil to be suppressed without delay. The Senate immediately passed a bill prohibiting citizens of the United States from privateering, either against nations in amity or against their fellow-citizens. With some modifications it passed the House.
The importance of preventing the exportation of arms and ammunition was indicated by the crisis. It was increased by information which had reached the Government. A bill passed the Senate prohibiting the exportation of them. It received the vote of the House, but not until after a strenuous opposition, for the reasons that it would injure the manufacture of those articles, and would be prejudicial to France.
Several other bills also passed the Senate, in pursuance of Hamilton's suggestions. That to augment the corps of Artillerists and Engineers was determined by a large majority. A bill for the protection of trade met with more opposition. It proposed to man and equip the frigates, and to purchase and fit nine twenty gun ships. A motion was made to strike out the clause for the purchase of these ships. It was followed by another, by which the national vessels were only to be employed within the harbors, and on the sea coast of the United States. Both motions were rejected. Laws to authorise the President to organize a provisional army of fifteen thousand men, to be called into service only in the event of war, and to lay and revoke embargoes were defeated.
A bill to permit the arming of private merchant vessels, and to regulate them, was postponed to the next session The votes of the Senators on some of these measures were influenced by information received during their deliberations of an armistice between France and Austria, and by the hope of a general peace.
The political complexion of the House of Representatives was not of a decided cast;-although the Administration had a majority, the advantage of partisan talent was with its opponents, most of the strong men of the Federalists having retired, or been elected to the Senate. Of their successors, too many were too much alive to popular sentiment, the tone of which, the long-continued and unresisted injuries of France had lowered.
As soon as the Address to the President was presented, Smith submitted to the House of Representatives a series of resolutions in which Hamilton's plan was embodied. The first proposed, that provision should be made for fortifying the ports and harbors. After an opposition by Giles and Mercer on the ground of expense, it passed. The second, that the frigates, “Constitution,” “Constellation," and "United States," should be completed and manned, was much opposed in various ways. It was sought to refer it to a select committee. The want of funds was objected. It was proposed to complete, but not to man. After a debate, which showed the fixed purpose of the Democratic leaders to prevent, if possible, the employment of a Navy, the resolution passed.
The purchase of other frigates and of sloops of war embraced in the third resolution was more warmly resisted. The object of providing a Naval force was asked. It was avowed to be for the purpose of convoy. This, it was contended, would lead inevitably to war, and should be postponed until the issue of the negotiation was
ascertained. The right of employing convoys was questioned. The advocates of the measure insisted on the necessity of provisions for defence; and demanded why commerce should be left a prey during a protracted negotiation, when, having taken our vessels and drained us of our wealth,-France will tell us, "We must submit!!"
The next discussion arose upon a proposition contained in the fifth resolution-to provide by law for regulating the arming of merchant vessels for defence. This, it was urged, would be attended with extreme danger. It would confide to the discretion of individuals the question of peace or war. No precedent for such a step, it was alleged, could be found in the conduct of other neutral nations; no authority could be adduced in its favor from the law of nations. It was the duty of the government to prohibit it. It was a privilege, only to be granted where the danger from uncivilized nations rendered immediate resistance the only remedy, as was the case in the Mediterranean and in the East Indies. It was proposed to insert the "West" Indies as a region where the right of self-defence ought to be exerted. "The protection," it was said, "of this trade was a chief object for which they were convened. For the attainment of this great object, the opposition proposed nothing. All they did was to hold out alarms of war, though every one desired peace. If other neutral nations had not armed their merchantmen, they had fleets to convoy their trade. We have no fleet. The creation of a navy is opposed, and even wishes are expressed that the frigates now building were burned. If we resort to an embargo, our seamen would wander about the country, discontented and perishing for want-our produce would decay upon our wharves. Have we a right to sit still and see these