Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

1

checking or preventing slander, and banishing a few foreign malcontents. In those states in which it was practicable to enforce them, they were probably unnecessary; and in those in which they were intended to strike terror into the calumniators of the administration, they would either afford matter of triumph and exultation to its enemies by their failure to convict, or produce the no less dangerous honours of martyrdom.

"It is possible that in the confidence of their increased popu- . larity and strength, they wished to provoke their opponents to some excesses, in resistance of the law, which might thus afford a pretext for the party in power to crush them under their feet, as unsuccessful resistance always adds to the power of the government. But if such were their expectations, they were no where realized. And there was nothing against which the republican party were more carefully guarded, than that the people should not be stirred up to a violent resistance of these laws.

With the great advantage which the administration party possessed in our relations with France, it seems probable that but for the error of this measure, their ascendancy would have been maintained. It should, however, be remarked that the conduct of the republican party was not more wise in continuing their attachment to France after the despatches were received from our envoys; for if they had renounced that attachment, and disclaimed all fraternity with its government after they had such satisfactory evidence of its turpitude, they might have retained their relative strength, instead of losing it by the numbers who joined the administration in defence of the national honour; and, placed on this vantage ground, their attacks on the alien and sedition laws would have been irresistible. But on this occasion the spirit of party overpowered both the dictates of prudence and the sentiments of patriotism, and its votaries, under the impulse of its evil sway, were led to pursue a course as unprofitable as it was inglorious, and which would have been fatal to their success but for the errors of their opponents.

Some other measures of the administration savoured more

[ocr errors]

of policy. Feeling the advantage which they derived from the insolence of the French rulers, and the imprudence of the republican party here, they took every means in their power of bringing the subject to the notice of the people. They encouraged public addresses to the president to an extent never witnessed before. These effusions of patriotic indignation and zeal were welcomed from every quarter-from the most dignified public bodies down to any voluntary association however small. They served indeed to fan the flames of party, to irritate their adversaries, as well as to give cause of exultation to their friends; but they were sure to gain by agitating the subject, for the feelings of national pride, a sentiment at once so universal and strong, being always thrown into the scale of the administration, was sure to give it the preponderance. The effect would have been yet greater, if the president, in some of his answers had not been indiscreet; and instead of heightening the national resentment, as a show of moderation would have been sure to do, he so managed as to excite the suspicion that it was his political opponents at home, and not the French Di. rectory, who were the chief objects of his resentment and hostility. He thus gave a further colour to the imputations of his enemies that the breach with France was only part of the scheme of bringing republicanism into disgrace, and introducing a more high toned government.

The errors which the parties thus severally committed under the dominion of their respective passions and sympathies, tended in a great measure to counteract each other, but the administration throughout the year 1797, and part of the following year, seemed to gain strength; and in the succeeding Congress, most of the members of which were elected after the arrival of the envoys from France, it had a large accession of members, so much so that on one of the federal party, Mr. Bayard, ex pressing a wish that a gentleman on the opposition, for whom he felt great personal respect, belonged to this party, another replied that they were strong enough for their own safety, and he did not desire the accession of a single new member.* *This is stated on the authority of the late Colonel Wilson Nicholas.

The Legislatures in the several states prepared to support or oppose the course of the administration, according to their respective sentiments, and that of Virginia was looked to with peculiar interest by both parties, because that state was yet the largest in the Union, and the leaders of both parties, General Washington and Mr. Jefferson, were to be found among its citizens. The plan of opposition had without doubt been arranged by Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison, in conformity with the opinion expressed in the letter of the former to Colonel John Taylor, and Mr. Jefferson had actually prepared the resolutions which were offered by Colonel George Nicholas, of Kentucky, and adopted at the succeeding session. Those offered by Colonel Taylor, in the Virginia legislature, and adopted, were drafted by Mr. Madison.

Mr. Jefferson did not take his seat in the Senate at the next session in December till the 27th of the month, and that day week he wrote to Mr. Madison on the complexion of the times. Adverting to a passage in the president's reply to the Senate's answer to his speech, he remarks: “When the Senate gratuitously hint Logan to him, you see him in his reply come out in his genuine colours." The passage alluded to is in these words: “Although the officious interference of individuals, without public character or authority, is not entitled to any credit, yet it deserves to be considered, whether that temerity and impertinence of individuals affecting to interfere in public affairs, between France and the United States, whether by their secret correspondence or otherwise, and intended to impose upon the people, and separate them from their government, ought not to be inquired into and corrected."

Mr. Jefferson further says, “The republican spirit is supposed to be gaining ground in this state and Massachusetts. The taxgatherer has already excited discontent. Gerry's correspon. dence with Talleyrand, promised by the president at the opening of the session, is still kept back. It is known to shew France in a very conciliatory attitude, and to contradict some executive assertions. Therefore it is supposed they will get

VOL. II.-7

their war measures well taken before they will produce this damper.”

On the 16th, he writes to the same gentleman that the bill suggested by Dr. Logan's negotiation with the French government will pass; that a loan of five millions to the government had been opened at eight per cent. interest: that many of the members were desirous that Mr. Madison would publish his report of the debates in the convention which formed the constitution: that it was considered certain that the measures of the army, navy, and direct tax, would bring about a revolution of public sentiment, and that the constitution would then receive a different explanation. He thought that if those debates “could be ready to appear critically, their effect would be decisive."

Ten days afterwards he wrote a long letter to Mr. Gerry, who had returned from France a few months before, in answer to one he had received from that gentleman. He first exculpates himself from having had any agency whatever in Dr. Logan's visit to Europe, which was dictated altogether by his own enthusiastic zeal, and he then proceeds to make to Mr. Gerry a "profession of his political faith, in confidence that he would consider every future imputation on him of an opposite complexion,” as false and calumnious. He sets forth his views and principles in reference to the constitution and general policy of the United States, and they are such as few in the present day would be willing to disclaim. He disavows all undue preference for France, but though deeply feeling the injuries of that nation, he did not think war the surest means of redressing them. "I did believe, he says, that a mission sincerely disposed to preserve peace, would obtain for us a peaceable and honourable settlement and retribution; and I appeal to you to say whether this might not have been obtained, if either of your colleagues had been of the same sentiment with yourself.”

He noticed the state of parties in the United States since the embassy to France; says there was a great and growing opposition among the people to war with that nation, when most fortunately and critically the despatches of October 22nd, 1791,

a

prepared by his colleague Marshall, with a view of their being made public, dropped into their laps. This, he remarks, was truly a God-send, and they made the most of it—"there were instances of single individuals who printed and dispersed ten or twelve thousand copies at their own expense. The odiousness of the corruption supposed in those papers excited a general and high indignation among the people. Unexperienced in such manæuvres, they did not permit themselves even to suspect that the turpitude of private swindlers might mingle itself unobserved, and give its own hue to the communications of the French government, of whose participation there was neither proof nor probability. Still, however, the lovers of peace hoped something from Mr. Gerry's staying behind, but the despatches sent off to him, and the probable misrepresentations of the real wishes of the American people, destroyed those hopes. They then looked forward to his return for such information as might present them with “the other side of the medal.” That has been since presented, and they now see from his correspondence with Talleyrand that France “was sincere and anxious to obtain a reconciliation, and was disposed to a liberal treaty." He mentions the sedative effects to the south of the alien and sedition laws, and that the direct tax was likely to have the same effect in the north, and “although there may be small checks, like Logan's pretended embassy, yet the tide is already turned and will sweep before it all the feeble obstacles of art."

The rest of the letter concerns Mr. Gerry personally. Mr. Jefferson assures him that the republican party have not joined in the abuse of him as he supposes, though they may have wished that he had been more full in his information concern. ing the course pursued by his colleagues, and that such a course seems due to himself as well as to his country. He refers him to the newspapers and toasts on the 4th of July to see who are his friends, and who his bitter enemies. He concludes by requesting that the letter may never go out of his hands, and to prevent accidents in case of death, urges him to destroy that part which contains facts which though sacredly conformable

a

« PředchozíPokračovat »