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The success of any other person of the same political party, was doubtful; and even if elected, it was by no means certain that his personal popularity could impart to his administration sufficient strength to withstand the powerful and determined opposition which it was destined to encounter.
Hence Washington was strongly urged by many of his friends to change his purpose, and once more to consent to sacrifice his individual ease and happiness for the public welfare. Ardently as he desired a release from the cares and responsibilities of public life, induced, probably, by the pressing solicitations of his friends, he delayed, for the present, the announcement of his intention to decline. In the mean time, unscrupulous efforts were kept up, not only to turn the popular sentiment against his policy, but to weaken his hold on the affections of the people. No artifice was supposed to be more likely to effect this object, than to represent him as friendly to England and inimical to France.
It will be recollected that the president addressed to the members of his cabinet a series of questions for their consideration, prior to the meeting at which it was decided to issue the proclamation of neutrality. A number of essays appeared in the Aurora, in one of which these queries were inserted, and made the subject of bitter denunciation. * Perfidy and ingratitude,” it was said, “ were stamped on their front.” They were “ a stupendous monument of degeneracy. It would almost require the authenticity of holy writ to persuade posterity that they were not a libel ingeniously contrived to injure the reputation of the savior of his country."
This document being strictly confidential, it could have become public only by a betrayal of confidence. Mr. Jefferson, to free himself from suspicion, immediately wrote a letter to the president, assuring him of his own innocence. The president, in answer, said he did not suspect him of having given the queries publicity. He was, however, " at no loss to conjecture from what source they flowed, through what channel they were conveyed, nor for what purpose they and similar publications appeared.” [The "source" here alluded to, was probably Mr. Randolph.) The letter proceeds to say:
“As you have mentioned the subject yourself, it would not be frank, candid, or friendly, to conceal, that your conduct has been represented as derogating from that opinion I conceived you entertained of me; that to your particular friends and connections you have described, and they have denounced me, as a person under a dangerous influence; and that if I would listen more to some other opinions, all would be well. My answer invariably has been, that I had never discovered any thing in the conduct of Mr. Jefferson to raise suspicions in my mind of his
sincerity; that if he would retrace my public conduct while he was in the administration, abundant proof would occur to him, that truth and right decisions were the sole objects of my pursuit; that there were as many instances within his own knowledge of my having decided against as in favor of the person evidently alluded to, (Hamilton ;) and moreover, that I was no believer in the infallibility of the politics or measures of any man living. In short, that I was no party man myself; and that the first wish of my heart was, if parties did exist, to reconcile them.
" To this I may add, that until the last year or two, I had no conception that parties would, or even could, go the lengths I have been witness to; nor did I believe, until lately, that it was within the bounds of probability-hardly within those of possibility—that while I was using my utmost exertions to establish a national character of our own, independent as far as our obligations and justice would permit, of every nation of the earth; and wished, by steering a steady course, to preserve this country from the horrors of a desolating war; I should be accused of being the enemy of one nation, and subject to the influence of another ; and to prove it, that every act of my administration would be tortured, and the grossest and most insidious misrepresentations of them be made, by giving one side only of a subject, and that, too, in such exaggerated and indecent terms as could scarcely be applied to a Nero—to a notorious defaulter, or even to a common pick-pocket.
“But enough of this; I have already gone further in the expression of my feelings than I intended.”
This letter would seem to indicate a suspicion, on the part of Washington, that Jefferson was secretly endeavoring to impair the public confidence in him. This suspicion subsequent events tended to strengthen and confirm. Among these was the appearance the next year, of a letter written by Mr. Jefferson, in April, 1796, to P. Mazzei, a foreigner, and which had found its way back to this country The letter as it first appeared in the papers, being, as Mr. Jefferson alleged, an imperfect translation, we give it as corrected by himself.
“MY DEAR FRIEND: The aspect of our politics has wonderfully changed since you left us. In place of that noble love of liberty and republican government which carried us triumphantly through the war, an Anglican monarchical and aristocratic party has sprung up, whose avowed object is to draw over us the substance, as they have already done the forms, of the British government. The main body of our citizens, however, remain true to their republican principles: the whole landed interest is republican, and so is a great mass of talents. Against us are the executive, the judiciary, two out of three branches of the legislature, all the officers of the government, all who want to be officers,
all timid men who prefer the calm of despotism to the boisterous sea of liberty, British merchants, and Americans trading on British capitals, speculators and holders in the banks and public funds, a contrivance invented for the purposes of corruption, and for assimilating us in all things to the rotten as well as the sound parts of the British model. It would give you a fever were I to name to you the apostates who have gone over to these heresies, men who were Samsons in the field and Solomons in the council, but who have had their heads shorn by the harlot England. In short, we are likely to preserve the liberty we have obtained only by unremitting labors and perils. But we shall preservo it; and our mass of weight and wealth on the good side is so great, as to leave no danger that force will ever be attempted against us. We have only to awake, and snap the Lilliputian cords with which they have been entangling us during the first sleep which succeeded our labors. It suffices that we arrest the progress of that system of ingratitude and injustice toward France, from which they would alienate us, to bring us under British influence."
Such a letter from one with whom he had long sustained the most intimate and friendly relations, private and official-accusing him of antagonism to republican principles, and of coöperating with a monarchical party to change the government–characterizing his administration as " the calm of despotism," and representing its measures as “contrivances invented for the purposes of corruption"-gave Washington great pain, and greatly marred, if it did not terminate, the friendship which had so long subsisted between these two eminent and esteemed individuals.
A principal object of Washington's opponents was to induce the belief that he was inimical to France, and friendly to Great Britain. In 1777, a number of forged letters were published, purporting to have been written by him in 1776, to certain friends, and containing expressions in opposition to the cause of independence, and favorable to Great Britain. The calumny was revived by the republication of these letters; and as he treated it with silence, the genuineness of the letters was, to some extent, and for a time, believed. To prevent future injury to his political character, on the day of his retirement from office, (March 3, 1797,) he addressed to the secretary of state, a letter, solemnly declaring the letters "a base forgery," and detailing circumstances proving them to be such; and concluding with a request, that the present letter might be deposited in the office of the state department "as a testimony of the truth to the present generation, and to posterity.”
Having fully determined to decline another election, the president announced his determination in a valedictory address to the people of the United States, which bears date September 16th, 1796. This
address contains a summary of the political maxims by which he had been governed in the conduct of his administration, and the observance of which he deemed indispensable to the future safety and welfare of the nation. [Note, page 995.]
Washington having explicitly declined a reëlection, the federalists united
upon John Adams and Thomas Pinckney as their candidates for president and vice-president; and the republicans supported Mr. Jefferson and Aaron Burr. The struggle was a very ardent and a bitter one. The feelings, not only of the American people, but of foreigners, especially the French, were deeply enlisted in it. The French minister was more than a concerned spectator to the contest. Just before the election he sent a communication to the secretary of state, containing a repetition of the various accusations against our government, of bad faith, of injustice, and of ingratitude towards France. The object of this letter at this particular time, was sufficiently disclosed by its being sent, at the same time, to the Aurora newspaper for publication. This extraordinary diplomatic letter concludes thus:
“Alas ! time has not yet demolished the fortifications with which the English roughened this country, nor those the Americans raised for their defense : their half rounded summits still appear in every quarter, amidst plains, on the tops of mountains. The traveler need not search for the ditch which served to encompass them; it is still open under his feet. Scattered ruins of houses laid waste, which the fire had partly respected, in order to leave monuments of British fury, are still to be found. Men still exist, who can say, here a ferocious Englishman slaughtered my father; there my wife tore her daughter from the hands of an unbridled Englishman. Alas! the soldiers who fell under the sword of the Britons are not yet reduced to dust: the laborer, in turning up his field, still draws from the bosom of the earth their whitened bones ; while the ploughman, with tears of tenderness and gratitude, still recollects that his fields, now covered with rich harvests, have been moistened with French blood. While every thing around the inhabitants of this country animates them to speak of the tyranny of Great Britain, and of the generosity of Frenchmen; when England has declared a war of death to that nation, to avenge herself for its having cemented with its blood the independence of the United States ;-it was at this moment their government made a treaty of amity with their ancient tyrant, the implacable enemy of their ancient ally. Oh, Americans, covered with noble scars! Oh, you who have so often fown to death and to victory with French soldiers ! you who know those generous sentiments which distinguish the true warrior ! whose hearts have always vibrated with those of your companions in arms! consult them to-day to know what they cxperience. Recollect, at the same time, that if magnanimous, souls with liveliness resent an affront, they also know how to forget one. Let your govern. ment return to itself, and you will still find in Frenchmen faithful friends and generous allies.”
Adet also announced in this letter the orders of the French directory to suspend his ministerial functions with the federal government. This aet, however, was not intended “as a rupture between France and the United States, but as a mark of just discontent which was to last until the government of the United States returned to sentiments and to measures more conformable to the interests of the alliance, and the sworn friendship between the two nations.” After the manner of Genet, he denounces the government, but flatters the people. “Notwithstanding the wrongs of the government,” he says, “ the directory do not wish to break with a people whom they love to salute with the appellation of a friend."
It is but justice to the discreet and reflecting men of the opposition party, to say, that they disapproved this interference, on the part of a foreign minister, in the election of a chief magistrate; and we are informed that it appeared to have had no sensible effect upon the election.
About the same time, there appeared in the same newspaper, an order from Adet, in the name of the French directory, to Frenchmen in the United States, to wear the tri-colored cockade; which was accordingly done, not by Frenchmen only, but by many of our own citizens.
Congress met on the 5th of December, 1796 ; and on the 7th, Washington addressed the legislature for the last time. The adjustment of difficulties with the Indians, with Great Britain, Spain and Algiers, and the pending negotiations with Tunis and Tripoli, were made subjects of communication. To secure respect to our neutral flag, and to protect our trade to the Mediterranean, he recommended the gradual creation of
a navy. The encouragement of manufactures, agriculture, the arts and sciences, was also commended to the attention of congress. In adverting to our relations with France, the president said: "Our trade has suffered, and is suffering, extensive injuries in the West Indies from the cruisers and agents of the French republic; and communications have been received from its minister here, which indicate the danger of a farther disturbance of our commerce, by its authority, and which are, in other respects, far from agreeable.” He expressed the wish to continue to maintain cordial harmony and a friendly understanding with that nation, and cherished the "expectation that a spirit of justice, candor, and friendship, on the part of the republic, would eventually insure Buccess."
The following is the concluding paragraph of his speech : “ The situ- .