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(BORN 1758, DIED 1808.)
ON THE BRITISH TREATY, HOUSE OF REPRESENTA
TIVES, APRIL 28, 1796.?
It would be strange, that a subject, which has aroused in turn all the passions of the country, should be discussed without the interference of any of our own. We are men, and therefore not exempt from those passions; as citizens and representatives, we feel the interests that must excite them. The hazard of great interests cannot fail to agitate strong passions. We are not disinterested; it is impossible we should be dispassionate. The warmth of such feelings may becloud the judgment, and, for a time, pervert the understanding. But the public sensibility, and our own, has sharpened the spirit of inquiry, and given an animation to the debate. The public attention has been quickened to mark the progress of the
* For notes on Ames see Appendix, p. 359.
discussion, and its judgment, often hasty and erroneous on first impressions, has become solid and enlightened at last. Our result will, I hope, on that account, be safer and more mature, as well as more accordant with that of the nation. The only constant agents in political affairs are the passions of men. Shall we complain of our nature—shall we say that man ought to have been made otherwise? It is right already, because He, from whom we derive our nature, ordained it so ; and because thus made and thus acting, the cause of truth and the public good is more surely promoted.
The treaty is bad, fatally bad, is the cry. It sacrifices the interest, the honor, the independence of the United States, and the faith of our engagements to France. If we listen to the clamor of party intemperance, the evils are of a number not to be counted, and of a nature not to be borne, even in idea. The language of passion and exaggeration may silence that of sober reason in other places, it has not done it here. The question here is, whether the treaty be really so very fatal as to oblige the nation to break its faith. I admit that such a treaty ought not to be executed. I admit that self
preservation is the first law of society, as well as of individuals. It would, perhaps, be deemed an abuse of terms to call that a treaty, which violates such a principle. I waive also, for the present, any inquiry, what departments shall represent the nation, and annul the stipulations of a treaty. I content myself with pursuing the inquiry, whether the nature of this compact be such as to justify our refusal to carry it into effect. A treaty is the promise of a nation. Now, promises do not always bind him that makes them. But I lay down two rules, which ought to guide us in this case.
The treaty must appear to be bad, not merely in the petty details, but in its character, principle, and mass. And in the next place, this ought to be ascertained by the decided and general concurrence of the enlightened public.
I confess there seems to be something very like ridicule thrown over the debate by the discussion of the articles in detail. The undecided point is, shall we break our faith? And while our country and enlightened Europe, await the issue with more than curiosity, we are employed to gather piecemeal, and article by article, from the instrument, a justification for the deed by trivial calculations of commercial profit and loss. This is little worthy of the subject, of this body, or of the nation. If the treaty is bad, it will appear to be so in its mass. Evil to a fatal extreme, if that be its tendency, requires no proof; it brings it. Extremes speak for themselves and make their own law. What if the direct voyage of American ships to Jamaica with horses or lumber, might net one or two per centum more than the present trade to Surinam ; would the proof of the fact avail any thing in so grave a question as the violation of the public engagements ? * * * *
Why do they complain, that the West Indies are not laid open ? Why do they lament, that any restriction is stipulated on the commerce of the East Indies? Why do they pretend, that if they reject this, and insist upon more, more will be accomplished ? Let us be explicit —more would not satisfy. If all was granted, would not a treaty of amity with Great Britain still be obnoxious? Have we not this instant heard it urged against our envoy, that he was not ardent enough in his hatred of Great Britain ? A treaty of amity is condemned because it was not made by a foe, and in the spirit of one. The same gentleman, at the same instant, repeats a very prevailing objection, that no treaty should be made with the enemy of France. No treaty, exclaim others, should be made with a monarch or a despot; there will be no naval security while those searobbers domineer on the ocean; their den must be destroyed; that nation must be extirpated.
I like this, sir, because it is sincerity. With feelings such as these, we do not pant for treaties. Such passions seek nothing, and will be content with nothing, but the destruction of their object. If a treaty left King George his island, it would not answer; not if he stipulated to pay rent for it. It has been said, the world ought to rejoice if Britain was sunk in the sea;
if where there are now men and wealth and laws and liberty, there was no more than a sand bank for sea monsters to fatten on; a space for the storms of the ocean to mingle in conflict. * * *5
What is patriotism? Is it a narrow affection for the spot where a man was born ? Are the very clods where we tread entitled to this ardent preference because they are greener? No, sir, this is not the character of the virtue, and it soars higher for its object. It is an extended self-love, mingling with all the enjoyments of life, and twisting itself with the minutest filaments of the heart. It is thus we obey