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more urgent want of some one who should speak out, to and for this nation, and in a voice which would be heard by the whole race of civilized man. But I candidly confess I did expect it would be to heedless, or to disdainful, or to horescent ears, even in our own country, and much more elsewhere. When the first suggestion was made to me of a wish that I would speak, my answer was that I was tongue-tied by my place. But it being once made, I brooded over the idea, till I made up my mind to risk it and take the consequences.
The task first assigned me was only to read the Declaration. The second was to comment upon it, and two topics struck me as preeminently involved in it - the cause of man and the cause of our country. I determined to probe them both, as far as my powers would bear me out, to the bottom. But I little expected that it would have drawn so much notice as it has, and still less that it would have brought me so delightful a letter as yours.
It was certainly not intended to waft incense to any member of the corps diplomatique among us. I have not accustomed any of the gentlemen in that capacity residing here to expect that from me, in any of their relations with me. I resolved to say nothing to which either of them could have a right to take exception. That they would be pleased with what I should say, I did not expect.
The style and composition are legitimate prey for the critics. It is my principle that a man who gives himself voluntarily to the public has no right to ask indulgence for any thing. To some of the offences against taste which have been charged upon me, I plead guilty. If I would demur to others, it would be in vain. The public will judge for themselves.
The theoretic portion has been called cold and metaphysi
cal. I have only to say I made it as warm as I could. I could not make it physical.
In Europe, if it escapes being called inflammatory, it will be because it will not be read.
I am especially glad to have your concurrence in that which seems to have been most extensively censured, the temper towards Great Britain.
People, who go every week to see seven ghosts in succession rise from the lower regions upon the stage and say to Richard, "Let me sit heavy on thy soul tomorrow," and admire the scene as sublime, are quite shocked at the inhumanity of a distant and general allusion to a calamity as having perhaps atoned for the sins of a soul upon which fifty thousand dead ghosts might with equal justice rise and sit heavy — sins distinctly and specifically charged in the paper upon which the speaker was commenting. What is George the Third now more than a historical character, and what is Richard the third less? For my own part, far from feeling that remark as a severe allusion, I declare to you it was made in a relenting and compunctious spirit, seeking an apology for the idea that sins like those could be atoned for by mere earthly sufferings. As to the nature of George the Third's sufferings, it is so entirely kept out of sight in the passage of the address objected to, that no hearer or reader not already acquainted with the fact would ever suspect it. For eight or nine years a prayer was read every Sunday and every holiday in every church throughout England in which the character of this misfortune was quite transparent, yet I never heard of its being censured as indelicate. But to pass from the man to the nation, it is said that I have stimulated animosities against the British, even while disclaiming vindictive recollections. Such critics should recollect that my theme was not merely our independence but its Declaration. Suppose a man should
be appointed to deliver an oration upon the massacre of the St. Bartholomew's, would the disclaimer of a vindictive spirit in descanting upon it be incompatible with an unrestrained overflow of heart upon the character of the transaction? The British nation had made themselves as willing and eager parties to an unjust and cruel, and so far as there was a drop of kindred blood in their veins, an unnatural war against their countrymen in this hemisphere. This was the specific charge against them in the text of the speaker. Was he to frost this wormwood with sugar, or neutralize it to insipidity?
Was he to pass unnoticed that unrelenting war of slander and invective, waged by almost all the literature of Great Britain against the good name of his country to this hour?
While in aid of the pestiferous exhalations of their periodical press, peers of the realm and chancellors of the exchequer, whig and tory, in place or out, at their seats in Parliament and at the convivial board, were showering down torrents of false and malignant defamation upon America, was an American Secretary of State, discoursing as a private citizen to his countrymen upon topics which touched every chord of glory and of patriotism in the heart, to seem to know nothing of all this, or was he to case himself in buckram, and measure all his terms by the decorum of a diplomatic note?
Well did I know that this address, if it attracted more notice than a common fourth of July oration, would rouse the crest of every snake or Medusa's head against itself and against its author. Prudence, says Peter Pindar, when she visits a house leaves her opinions with her pattens at the door. And a great authority says Nullum numen adest ne sit prudentia. I did hesitate much and long before I dismissed this "sly insinuating lass," and then it was only by asking her to step into the next door, while I should be hold
ing a talk with my countrymen. A concurrence of circumstances quite accidental produced my final determination, and the decisive incident that produced it was this. The narrative of the campaigns of Washington and New Orleans deliberately proposes and urges the adoption of principles of war against the United States, as republicans, which he acknowledges would be too cruel for legitimate war against the people of a monarchy. I had just seen the extract from the work containing this sample of British humanity published in twenty of our newspapers, without a single word of comment upon it. And I thought it high time that we should be asking ourselves, where we were in our relations with that country. I have neither time nor space to enlarge, and I ought rather to apologize for saying so much to you of myself. You may rest assured that whatever the feelings of the diplomatic gentry may be on this occasion, they will not officially disclose them to me. I only wish they would. I am, etc.
TO THE PRESIDENT
WASHINGTON, 25 July, 1821.
I have directed the note of the French Minister to be made out, conformably to the amendments which accompanied your favor of the 23rd with two exceptions. One is the direction to insert at page 22 something to this effect: "It may readily (or willingly) be admitted (or imagined) that he (Capt. Edou) was deceived by others, and led into these measures without a correct knowledge of their conse
quences, and the good opinion which the Baron entertains of him is well calculated to make that impression."
I beg leave to suggest to you my reasons for objecting to the insertion of this, or any paragraph of similar import.
The conduct of Capt. Edou, as apparent on the face of his own declarations, has a clear unequivocal character with reference to morals. It is marked by falsehood, fraud, and violence, all exercised avowedly for purposes of outrage upon the laws of the United States.
This conduct the French Minister in an insolent and sophistical note has held forth to the world as the conduct of a man of honor and integrity, so profoundly injured by the American government in merely crossing the middle of a river, and using the necessary force to defeat his purpose, that it must be blown up into a national quarrel and made a question between the dignity of the crown of France, and the degradation of the American government. The party really and deeply injured is peremptorily called upon to apologize for the wrong it has endured, and to swallow the last dregs of indignity to appease the honor of a flagrant and notorious smuggler.
Such, sir, is the plain matter of fact, and I cannot disguise to you that if I have profoundly felt the conduct of Captain Edou as it affects the rights and interests of our country, I have been much more indignant at the attempt of the Baron de Neuville to palm it off upon the world for the suffering of injured innocence, and to trample upon the honor of this nation, by exacting upon the most paltry pretences that the American government should degrade itself, and by the basest of concessions set the seal to its own shame.
I will candidly confess that in my view of the subject to such a demand so made and so repealed upon such a state of facts, something more was required of the feeling of this