Page images

missioners for what we were arming. The restrictive clause was inserted! A question arose on the duration of the act. After much debate it was limited to one year. On the final vote, a strenuous effort was made to induce its rejection. In this opposition Gallatin was foremost. He took a view of the resources and expenditure of the country. A small Navy he contended would have no weight. A large one he insisted was beyond their means. As to manning the frigates, his only objection would be the expense. He avowed his determination to vote against the bill. Nicholas pronounced the whole cost of the frigates an useless expense. He did not believe they could be of any advantage, but he would vote for it, because he saw the sentiment of the public and of the House was strongly in its favor. Nothing short, he believed, of actual experience would convince the supporters of this measure, that it was useless, expensive, and injurious. He would vote for it, hoping after one year's experience of the plaything, and finding that money was of greater value than the frigates, all parties would concur in relinquishing it.

Giles trusted that the United States would never become a maritime power. It would be her greatest misfortune. "A navy was inimical to the liberties of the country, and could not be supported without resort to a press gang. Naval power could never subsist in any nation without despotism." The bill passed by a large majority, and was carried to the Senate. That body disagreed to the clause prohibiting the frigates from being employed as convoys, and, after the discussion of a motion by Gallatin to postpone the bill to the next session, the House receded from this extraordinary limitation.

Thus by firmness against the persevering opposition of their adversaries, the Federalists at last succeeded in

[ocr errors]

laying the foundation of a Navy. The title of the bill was changed from a law for the protection of trade to that of "An Act providing for a Naval Armament.”

In pursuance of the policy which had been previously adopted of excluding the Secretary of the Treasury from proposing objects of revenue, a committee of the House had reported a Stamp act. Two of its clauses were earnestly contested-one imposed a duty on certificates of naturalization. This became a theme of much clamor.

It was denounced as oppressive on the poor emigrant, and stigmatized as a sale of liberty, an attempt to tax the right of suffrage. The clause was retained. To the proposed tax on notes and bonds, a proviso was annexed exempting bank notes. This it was proposed to erase as being a partial distinction, and a prolonged debate ensued, not marked with any party character. By some it was apprehended, that this duty might affect the currency— others contended that bank stock was a species of property which yielded large profits, and ought not to be exempt. The exempting clause was expunged by an almost unanimous vote. By a subsequent provision, the banks were permitted to commute the Stamp tax by the payment of one per cent. on their dividends.

When a stamp act was before a former Congress, a proposal to tax the public debt had produced the defeat of the bill, it being regarded by the Federalists as a violation of great principles of public justice and expediency. Gallatin now moved for a Stamp tax on every certificate of public debt. The motion was rejected, and the Stamp act passed by a majority of five votes. After an effort to postpone it, a bill was also passed, raising, by a small increase, the duty upon imported salt, Gallatin earnestly opposing this increase, as oppressive and unequal. Duties were also proposed on licenses for selling by retail wines

and foreign distilled spirituous liquors-but were not laid.

To enable the Government to anticipate the product of these revenues, a loan of eight hundred thousand dollars was authorized, with a limitation of the interest to six per cent.


A MONTH prior to the adjournment of Congress, the President communicated to them a report from the Secretary of State on the proceedings of the Commissioner appointed to run the boundary between the United States and the Spanish dominions.

Ellicot, who had been detained by the lowness of the Ohio, reached the vicinity of Natchez, the place selected for the meeting of the commission, in the preceding month of February. He was attended by a military escort for his protection. On learning his approach, he was requested to station this force three days' journey from that post. He complied, and, having encamped a short distance from a Spanish fort, raised the flag of his country. He was requested, but declined, to lower this flag; and proceeded with his astronomical observations to determine the latitude of his station, which was found to be within the limits of the United States. While thus engaged, he was surrounded by Indians, who traversed his camp with drawn knives. The danger of his situation induced him to order the troops to advance, repeated but vain efforts being in the meantime made to persuade him to move within the territory of Spain.

Immediately after his arrival, and as though preparatory to the fulfilment of the treaty, part of the Spanish

artillery was removed from their fort with every indication of its intended evacuation. Soon after, the cannon were carried back, and remounted. This procedure gave great umbrage to the inhabitants, anxious to renounce the jurisdiction of Spain. The motives of it were asked. Assurances were given of an early compliance with the treaty -at the same time a letter was addressed by the Spanish Governor to the commander of the escort, requesting him not to advance further. Proclamations were soon after issued, avowedly to quiet the inhabitants, but which excited their suspicions. Alarmed at their discontent, and apprehensive of an insurrection, assurances were renewed of orders having been received immediately to evacuate the forts. The suspicions of the borderers continued, and Ellicot demanded of the Governor an explicit avowal of his purpose.

A declaration was then given, on the thirtieth of March, that positive orders had been received to suspend the evacuation of the posts, until the governments should determine which of the works were to be demolished; and until, by an additional article to the treaty, the real property of the inhabitants should be secured. Thus the performance of this treaty was indefinitely postponed. Information was at the same time had, that reinforcements were moving from New Orleans to Natchez.

To prevent delay in the survey, instructions were forthwith sent from Philadelphia to permit the forts either to remain or to be demolished; and a pledge was given, that the occupants of the lands should be protected in their possessions. Congress were also urged to frame a government for the protection of the people, and the Spanish minister was called upon to explain the causes of this unexpected procedure. He gave an evasive answer. The reinforcement of the posts and authentic informa

« PreviousContinue »