Politeness appears to have been invented to enable people who would naturally fall out to live together in peace. And there is great need of etiquette in a world where antipathy plays a part not less essential than sympathy. It is as necessary to the continuance of animated nature that cat and dog should hate, as that cat and cat should love. A genuine and profound antipathy, therefore, may exist without either of the parties being to blame; and in our complicated civilization, vast numbers of us are compelled to live in the nearest intimacy, or labor in the closest contact, with persons between whom and ourselves there is this incurable dislike. In such cases there is no peace, no dignity, save through the resolute observance of all the etiquette which the situation imposes.
It was this that kept our two secretaries, Jefferson and Hamilton, on friendly terms with one another for many months after both had discovered that they differed in toto and on every leading question. A breach of etiquette finally embroiled them past reconciliation. It was difficult to quarrel with Jefferson; since, besides being naturally placable and good-tempered, he had a vivid sense of the value of peace and a singular knowledge of the arts by which peace is preserved. He advised his daughters to avoid breaking with disagreeable people as long as they could with hon or. Sacrifices and suppressions of feeling for such an object, he thought, cost much less pain than open separation. The effort of self-control was soon forgotten; but an open breach “haunts the peace of every day.”
Hamilton, too, though much spoiled by applause too early and too easily won, was a good fellow; amiable at home, agreeable abroad; who sang his old song of The Drum at the annual dinner of the Cincinnati, and was welcome in all companies and circles till political differences embittered men’s minds. What a pleasant picture we have of the breakfast scene at his house, No. 24 Broadway, the mother seated at the head of the table, with a napkin in her lap, cutting slices of bread from a great family loaf of the olden time, and spreading them with butter for the younger boys, who stood round her, reading in turn from the Bible or Goldsmith’s History of Rome; while the father, in the room adjoining, was seated at the piano playing an accompaniment to his daughter’s new song, or singing it to her accompaniment. When the lessons were finished and a stately pile of bread and butter was ready, all the eight children came to breakfast; after which, the younger ones were packed off to school, and the father went to his office.
Who more generous than that father? There is a portrait of Mrs. Hamilton, as one of her sons relates, bearing the name of the painter, “T. Earle, 1787,” which attests his goodness of heart. Earle was in the debtors’ prison at the time, and Hamilton induced his young wife to go to the prison and sit for her portrait. She persuaded other ladies, and thus the artist gained money enough to pay his debts and get out of jail. No man was more ready than Hamilton to set on foot such good-natured schemes, though himself never too far from the debtors’ prison. At this very time, — 1791 to 1794, — while he was handling millions upon millions of the public money, he was pinched severely in the effort to live upon his little salary. “If you can conveniently lend me twenty dollars for a few days,” he wrote to a friend, in September, 1791, “be so good as to send it by the bearer.” The friend sent a check for fifty dollars. And Talleyrand said, in 1794, after coming from Hamilton’s house, “I have beheld one of the wonders of the world, — a man who has made the fortune of a nation laboring all night to support a family.”
Talleyrand made another remark upon Hamilton. When Mr. George Ticknor visited him in 1819, the old diplomatist was so warm in his eulogy of Hamilton, that the American was disposed modestly to waive part of the compliment by saying that the public men of Europe had to do with larger masses and wider interests. “But,” said Talleyrand, “Hamilton had divined Europe.” He may have divined Europe. His misfortune was, that he had not divined America. In Europe, after a drill of twenty-five years in the British House of Commons, he might have been another Canning, a liberal Tory, the forerunner of Peel and Palmerston. In American politics it was impossible that he should ever have been at home, because he never could believe the truths, nor share the hopes, upon which the American system is based. In an ordinary period, however, he might have co-operated with Jefferson for a while, — both being gentlemen and patriots, — but the time was not ordinary. Christendom was losing its senses; and the discussions of the Cabinet had a bass accompaniment out of doors, ever deepening, always becoming more vehement. And it is but fair to remember that, if Jefferson had the inarticulate masses of the American people at his back, Hamilton was ceaselessly flattered by the articulate class, — the bar, the bench, the college, the drawing-room, the pulpit, the bureau. These two men, even if they had not become mutually repellant, would have been pulled apart by their adherents.
When the government, in 1790, removed from New York to Philadelphia, John Pintard, the translating clerk in the Department of State, chose not to go with it, and Jefferson gave the place—salary two hundred and fifty dollars a year—to the “poet Freneau,” an old college classmate and friend of Madison and Henry Lee. Captain Philip Freneau, a native of New York, besides being a kind of mild American Peter Pindar, had suffered and sung the horrors of the New York prisonships during the Revolutionary War. He was the bright, popular writer of his day, both in prose and verse; and, as he had contemplated “the British model” from the pestilential steerage of the Scorpion frigate anchored in the Hudson, he was never “bewitched” by it; but remained, to the end of his long life, a sound republican. No appointment could have been more natural, more proper, or more agreeable to the public. In recommending it, Mr. Madison’s chief motive was to promote the interest of his friend, then gaining a precarious and slender livelihood as man-of-all-work on the New York Daily Advertiser. But he had another object in view. Restive under the opposition of Hamilton’s organ at Philadelphia, the Gazette of the United States, Madison and Governor Henry Lee of Virginia had formed the project of setting up a weekly republican journal at the seat of government, to be edited, perhaps, by Captain Freneau. This scheme, half formed at the time of the appointment, could not but have had the approval of the Secretary of State, stranger though he was to Freneau; and this may have suggested a remark which the Secretary made in his note, offering him the place. The salary, Mr. Jefferson observed, was very low; but the office “gives so little to do as not to interfere with any other calling the person may choose, which would not absent him from the seat of government.”
Eight months after, October 31, 1791, appeared the first number of the National Gazette, edited by Philip Freneau; capital furnished by Madison and Lee; twenty-one subscribers previously obtained by Jefferson among his neighbors in Virginia. Thus there were two Gazettes at Philadelphia, — Fenno’s daily and Freneau’s weekly; the one Hamiltonian, the other Jeffersonian. But the only part which the Secretary of State took in the management of Freneau’s Gazette was to lend the editor the foreign newspapers which came to the department. “I never did,” he once wrote, “by myself or any other, or indirectly, say a syllable, nor attempt any kind of influence, … nor write, dictate, or procure any one sentence to be inserted, in Freneau’s or any other gazette, to which my name was not affixed, or that of my office.” The enterprise was chiefly Madison’s, who wished to have a weekly paper of republican politics for circulation in all the States, Bache’s daily paper not going much beyond the city of Philadelphia. Jefferson’s sympathy with the object was complete; but the fact of Freneau’s holding an office in his department is itself a kind of proof that he could not have regarded or used the paper as a personal organ. How absurd the supposition that a “politician” would thus display his hand! If Freneau’s Gazette had been designed as Jefferson’s organ, Jefferson surely would have begun by removing Freneau from office.
If the reader will turn over the files of Fenno, preserved in several public libraries, he will perceive the need there was of something antidotal to it. No opportunity was lost by the editor of reflecting upon republican institutions; and the adulation of the President was unceasing and offensive. Whatever question was uppermost, this Gazette of the United States might be depended upon for taking the side least characteristic of the United States. The burden of its song was, Government by the people is anarchy. If any one ventured to ask a Federalist, Why, then, are we not anarchic? the answer was, The high character of the President, and the universal awe which that character inspires, hold the demagogues in some decent show of restraint. It is WASHINGTON that saves us, not our “shilly-shally Constitution.”
When Freneau’s Gazette appeared, defending Paine, attacking Burke, criticising Hamilton’s measures, especially his new Bank of the United States, and commending Jefferson’s public acts, Fenno affected to be aghast. The morning after Freneau’s second number was circulated, a writer in Fenno, without mentioning the name of the audacious sheet, burst into the most ludicrous fury. He began by saying that there were acts of baseness and villany so atrocious, that we could hardly persuade ourselves to believe that any of the human race were depraved enough to commit them; and he proceeded to mention a crime or two of this description, — such as firing a city in the dead of night. But there is a depth of depravity, he continued, far beyond that. Such offences are of a mild type of turpitude compared with the revolting blackness of the one which he introduces to the reader’s notice in his closing paragraph: “In a free republic, the officers of the people are entitled to double honor, because they have no inheritance in their office, and, when actuated by just principles, accept of public employments from motives superior to mercenary considerations. The crime, therefore, of individuals who devise the destruction and imbrue their hands in the innocent blood of such characters is tinged with the blackest hue of hellish darkness.”
Such was the spirit of a paper that derived an important part of its revenue from the patronage of the government, and an important portion of its contents from the pens of high officers of the government. Freneau continued his Gazette, however, and did not refrain from imbruing his hands in the innocent blood of an eminent public character. He proceeded to the length of mentioning the Secretary of the Treasury by name. He descanted freely upon all that Hamilton had done, and all that he proposed; admitting many communications from republican friends; doing all that in him lay to controvert and ridicule the writers in Fenno, and defend the principle of government by the people for the people. Readers who examine the file will find it difficult to believe that satire so mild and invective so harmless should have had power to kindle wrath in Federal minds.
Antipathy, meanwhile, was growing in the hearts of Jefferson and Hamilton, blinding both, misleading both. It is of the nature of antipathy to distort the view, and shut the mind to truth; and when it reaches the degree of rendering social intercourse difficult and mutual explanation impossible, men may advance from misconception to misconception, until the idea they have of one another becomes monstrous. Never before, since they were born, had either of these two encountered immovable opposition. The lives of both had been too easily triumphant. From their youth up they had experienced little but acquiescence, sympathy, and applause, until they met in Washington’s Cabinet, and each discovered in the other an invincible antagonist. The self-love of both was deeply wounded. Hamilton owned that he took Jefferson’s opposition to the Bank as a wrong done to himself. “Mr. Jefferson,” he says, “not only delivered an opinion in writing against its constitutionality and expediency, but he did it in a style and manner which I felt as partaking of asperity and ill-humor toward me.” This to Colonel Carrington, May, 1792. But who can now discover in Jefferson’s opinion on the Bank one word savoring of asperity or ill-humor? On the contrary, it seems studiously void of offence, full of respect for opposing opinions, and ends by advising the President to sign the bill “if the pro and con hang so even as to balance his judgment.” This, he thought, would be paying only “a just regard to the wisdom of the legislature.”
Miserable error, to attribute difference of opinion to baseness of motive! Oliver Wolcott, Comptroller of the Treasury, Hamilton’s echo and successor (as genial a soul as ever cracked a walnut), betrays his chief’s blinding antipathy in his letters of this time. “Mr. Jefferson,” he writes, February, 1792, “appears to have shown rather too much of a disposition to cultivate vulgar prejudices; accordingly, he will become popular in alehouses, and do much mischief to his country by exciting apprehension that the government will operate unfavorably.” The comptroller interpreted the Publicola controversy, too, in his own merry fashion: “Mr. Adams and Mr. Jefferson seem much disposed to quarrel on the question whether liberty can be maintained in a country which allows citizens to be distinguished by the addition Mr., Esq., and Deacon, and whether Thomas Paine or Edmund Burke are the greatest fools.” Hamilton’s grammar was better than Wolcott’s; but he, too, was at first disposed to laugh at Jefferson’s notion of abolishing the small, lingering absurdities of the feudal system. But he soon ceased to laugh. Under Freneau’s attacks, he became, very early in 1792, as sour and bitter in his feelings toward his colleague as so good-tempered a man could be; and he poured out all his heart to his old comrade, Colonel Carrington of Virginia. He said he was convinced—“unequivocally convinced”—that “Mr. Madison, co-operating with Mr. Jefferson, is at the head of a faction decidedly hostile to me and to my administration, and actuated by views, in my judgment, subversive of the principles of good government and dangerous to the union, peace, and happiness of the country.”
Such was Hamilton’s conviction in May, 1792, and it remained his conviction until that fatal day in July, 1804, when he stood at Weehawken before Burr’s pistol, a conscious martyr. What reasons had he for thinking so? He gives them at great length to Colonel Carrington: Madison and Jefferson disapproved his financial measures! They had openly said so; Madison in debate, Jefferson in conversation, yes, even in conversation with foreigners! Some persons, whom the Secretary of State “immediately and notoriously moves” had even whispered suspicions of his official integrity. It was, also, “reduced to a certainty” that Freneau, a “known anti-Federalist,” had been “brought to Philadelphia by Mr. Jefferson to be the conductor of a newspaper.” And such a newspaper! Evidently devoted to the subversion of me and my measures, as well as unfriendly to the government! Moreover, both Madison and Jefferson (and here Hamilton rises into capital letters) “HAD A WOMANISH ATTACHMENT TO FRANCE, AND A WOMANISH RESENTMENT AGAINST GREAT BRITAIN”; and this to such a degree, that, unchecked, they would in six months bring on “AN OPEN WAR BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND GREAT BRITAIN!” Mr. Jefferson was especially and extravagantly addicted to these womanish propensities.
“In France,” continues Hamilton, “he saw government only on the side of its abuses. He drank deeply of the French philosophy, in religion, in science, in politics. He came from France in the moment of a fermentation which he had a share in exciting, and in the passions and feelings of which he shared, both from temperament and situation. He came here, probably, with a too partial idea of his own powers; and with the expectation of a greater share in the direction of our councils than he has in reality enjoyed. I am not sure that he had not marked out for himself the department of the finances. He came electrified plus with attachment to France, and with the project of knitting together the two countries in the closest political bands. Mr. Madison had always entertained an exalted opinion of the talents, knowledge, and virtues of Mr. Jefferson. The sentiment was probably reciprocal. A close correspondence subsisted between them during the time of Mr. Jefferson’s absence from this country. A close intimacy arose on his return. … Mr. Jefferson was indiscreetly open in his approbation of Mr. Madison’s principles on first coming to the seat of government. I say, indiscreetly, because a gentleman in one department ought not to have taken sides against another in another department.”
Both the Virginians, he thought, were chagrined and out of humor because, so far, he had usually triumphed over the opposition of one or both of them; and he proceeds to enumerate his victories, — funding, assumption, the bank, and others, — a “current of success on one side and defeat on the other,” which had “rendered the opposition furious.” And worse defeat was in store for them; for it was evident, he thought, beyond a question, that “Mr. Jefferson aims, with ardent desire, at the Presidential chair”; and, of course, Hamilton’s influence with the community must be destroyed. And here the Secretary of the Treasury owns that he had already aided to frustrate the imaginary ambition of his colleague. It had been a question who should be President pro tem., in case both the President and Vice-President should die in office. Some members of Congress had proposed the chief justice, Mr. Jay; Mr. Madison had moved the Secretary of State. “I acknowledge,” says Hamilton, “though I took far less part than was supposed, I ran counter to Mr. Jefferson’s wishes; for, if I had had no other reason for it, I had already experienced opposition from him, which rendered it a measure of self-defence.” Finally, he read Mr. Jefferson thus: “A man of profound ambition and violent passions.”
Thus may one honest and patriotic man misread another when, attempting to evolve his character from the depths of his own consciousness, the gall of an antipathy tinges his thoughts. Jefferson misconceived Hamilton scarcely less. He was, at least, unjust to the motives which influenced his colleagues public conduct. Antipathy, first, and then a sense of injuries received, obscured his judgment.
The mere difference of opinion between them was extreme. One day in April, 1791, when the Vice-President and the Cabinet dined together at Jefferson’s house to talk over some public question, the conversation turned, as it often did in those days, upon forms of government. “Purge the British Constitution of its corruption,” said Mr. Adams, “and give to its popular branch equality of representation, and it would be the most perfect constitution ever devised by the wit of man.” Hamilton waited a moment, and then said: “Purge it of its corruption, and give to its popular branch equality of representation, and it would become an impracticable government. As it stands at present, with all its supposed defects, it is the most perfect government that ever existed.” What intelligent American citizen, whose memory of public events ran back to 1765, and who had access to the pigeon-holes of the State Department, could be expected to listen to such an opinion without something like indignation?
But, in truth, when Hamilton pronounced the word government, he meant something radically different from Jefferson’s idea of government. What is government? Jefferson’s answer would have been: An agency for the execution of the people’s will. Hamilton must have answered: A means of curbing and frustrating the people’s will. The British government had proved itself practicable, by being able, in the teeth of the peoples will, to alienate and repel the American Colonies; and it had accomplished this by buying voters at the polls and voters in the House of Commons. Hence, in a Hamiltonian sense, it was a “practicable government.” There were members of Congress who had a pecuniary interest in supporting Hamilton’s financial system. This he regarded as legitimate and desirable; while good republicans could only think of it with horror, as if jurymen should sit in judgment on a cause in which their fortune was embarked.
A few months after, Hamilton seized an opportunity to explain himself to his colleague. Jefferson mentioned to him, in August, 1791, that he had received a letter from Mr. Adams, disavowing Publicola, and denying that he had ever had any wish to introduce the hereditary principle. Hamilton censured the Vice-President for having stirred questions of that nature in the newspapers. “I own,” he added, “it is my own opinion, though I do not publish it in Dan or Beersheba, that the present government is not that which will answer the ends of society by giving stability and protection to its rights, and that it will probably be found expedient to go into the British form. However, since we have undertaken the experiment, I am for giving it a fair course, whatever my expectations may be.” Hence, he thought Mr. Adams was wrong, however pure his intentions, to disturb, by the discourses on Davila, the public confidence in the present order of things. These avowals, apparently deliberate and made for a purpose, Jefferson thought worthy of preservation; and this conversation, accordingly, is the first of the “Anas” which give us so many interesting glimpses of the interior of General Washington’s Cabinet.
To this radical difference of opinion was added a grievance which was, at once, public and personal, wounding both to Jefferson’s patriotism and pride. Hamilton was an inyeterate lobbyist. Excluded from Congress by the Constitution, he nevertheless endeavored to exercise as much influence over legislation as an English Chancellor of the Exchequer who sits in Parliament. In his published correspondence, he mentions, with evident elation, several instances in which he had procured the passage or the rejection of measures. Upon occasion, he would even threaten to resign, unless he had his way; and such was his ascendency that this absurd insolence provoked from his adherents neither resentment nor ridicule. The republican members objected to the reference of legislative problems to members of the Cabinet regarding the Cabinet as part of the executive power. Hamilton could not so much as believe that a member of Congress could have any other than a factious reason for opposing such a reference. He distinctly claimed it, as belonging to his office, to perform the duty which now devolves upon the Committee of Ways and Means. He regarded himself as an injured being when Madison opposed the reference to the Secretary of the Treasury of the question of ways and means for the Indian War. Madison, he says, even went so far as to “combat, on principle, the propriety of such reference”; well knowing that “if he had prevailed, a certain consequence was my resignation.” Late in the debate he became apprised of the danger. “Measures of counter-action,” he says, “were adopted; and when the question was called, Mr. Madison was confounded to find characters voting against him whom he had counted upon as certain.”
Now, this interference with legislation was the more aggravating to Jefferson, because the Secretary of the Treasury had such a vast patronage with which to make his interference effectual: one hundred clerks at Philadelphia, a custom-house at every port, bank directors, loan agents, — a thousand places in his gift. And these places were not the trivial and demoralizing gifts which a cabinet minister has at his disposal now, — the brief, precarious tenure of under-paid offices. A government office was then a career. You were a made man if you got one. A peaceful and dignified life could be founded upon it, and a family reared. Hamilton wielded more power of this kind than all the rest of the administration put together, multiplied by tern; and it is reasonable to conclude that some voters in Congress (not as many, perhaps, as, Jefferson thought) were influenced by the interest members had in Hamilton’s various financial measures.
Before he had been a year in office, the Secretary of State had had enough of it. Scrupulously avoiding all interference with the departments of his colleagues, never lobbying, immersed in the duties of his place, he found himself borne along by Hamilton’s restless impetuosity, and compelled to aid in the execution of a policy which he could as little approve as prevent. He was nominally at the head of the Cabinet, without possessing the ascendency that belonged to his position. He seemed to himself, at once, responsible and impotent; and he believed the sway of Hamilton over public affairs to be illegitimate, and to be upheld by illegitimate means. In the spring of 1791, when he had been in the Cabinet little more than a year, he discovered, from a sentence in one of the President’s letters to himself, that he had no thought of serving beyond the end of his term, which would expire March 4, 1793. Jefferson instantly resolved to make that the period of his own service also. He longed for repose. His affairs clamorously demanded his attention. He was utterly devoid of commonplace ambition. All pageantry was wearisome to him. If, in his earlier years, he had coveted the kind of distinction which place conferred, he had outgrown that foible long ago, and had now for himself but one wish, — to enjoy a busy, tranquil existence at home, among his farms, his books, his apparatus, his children, and his friends. What man above forty-five, not a fool, has ever had, for himself alone, any other dream but that?
With regard to the Presidency, no one had as yet presumed to publish a conjecture as to what an infant nation was to do, when, at last, deprived of its father, it should be obliged—to use Jefferson’s expression—to “go alone.” Adams, Jay, and Jefferson were the three names oftenest whispered in conversation; but the situation was not ripe for anything beyond a whisper; and all patriotic men concurred in desiring General Washington’s continuance.
It was in February, 1792, in the course of a conference upon post-office affairs, that Jefferson disclosed to the President his intention to retire. It was not yet clear whether the post-office belonged to the Department of State or to that of the Treasury, and Jefferson wished the question settled. He told the President that, in his opinion, it belonged, and ought to belong, to the State Department, because, among other reasons, the Treasury Department was already too powerful, wielding “such an influence as to swallow up the whole executive powers”; so that “even the future Presidents, not supported by the weight of character which himself possessed, would not be able to make head against it.” He disclaimed all personal interest in the matter. If he was supposed to have any appetite for power, the intervening time was too short to be an object, for his own tenure of office would be exactly as long as that of the President’s. “My real wish,” said he, “is to avail the public of every occasion, during the rest of the President’s period, to place things on a safe footing.”
The conversation was interrupted here at its most interesting moment. The President asked him to breakfast with him the next morning, in order that the subject might be resumed. They met accordingly, and when the post-office question had been duly considered, the President revived the topic of Jefferson’s intention to retire. “In an affectionate tone,” he told Jefferson that he had felt much concern at the intelligence. For his own retirement there were reasons enough, and he enumerated them; but he should consider it unfortunate if his own return to private life should bring on the resignation of the great officers of the government, which might give a shock to the public mind of dangerous consequence. Jefferson tried to reassure the President on this point. He did not believe, he said, that any of his brethren thought of resigning. On the contrary, at the last meeting of the trustees of the sinking fund, the Secretary of the Treasury had developed a plan of operations which contemplated years of his own personal service.
General Washington was not reassured by this statement. He clung to Jefferson. He remarked that he considered the Department of the Treasury less important and less conspicuous than the Department of State, which “embraced nearly all the objects of administration,” and that the retirement of a Secretary of State would be more noticed. Symptoms of dissatisfaction, he added, far beyond what could have been expected, had lately shown themselves, and to what height these might arise, in case of too great a change in the administration, could not be foreseen.
Upon this, Jefferson’s tongue was loosed, and he expressed himself without reserve in words like these: “In my opinion there is only a single source of these discontents, — the treasury. A system has there been contrived for deluging the States with paper-money instead of gold and silver, for withdrawing our citizens from the pursuits of commerce, manufactures, buildings, and other branches of useful industry, to occupy themselves and their capitals in a species of gambling destructive of morality, which has introduced its poison into the government itself. It is a fact, as well known as that you and I are now conversing, that particular members of the legislature, while those laws were on the carpet, feathered their nests with paper, then voted for the laws, and constantly since have lent all the energy of their talents and the instrumentality of their offices, to the establishment and enlargement of their system. They have chained the system round our necks for a great length of time, and, in order to keep the game in their own hands, they have from time to time aided in making such legislative constructions of the Constitution as make it a very different thing from what the people thought they had submitted to. And now, they have brought forward a proposition far beyond any one advanced before; to which the eyes of many are now turned as the decision which is to let us know whether we live under a limited or an unlimited government.”
“To what proposition do you allude?” asked the President.
“To that,” replied Jefferson, “in the Report on Manufactures (by Hamilton) which, under color of giving bounties for the encouragement of particular manufactures, meant to establish the doctrine, that the Constitution, in giving power to Congress to provide for the general welfare, permitted Congress to take everything under their charge which they should deem for the public welfare. If this was maintained, then the enumeration of powers in the Constitution does not at all constitute the limits of their authority.”
With this topic the conversation ended. The mingling of justice and injustice in Jefferson’s observations is obvious. He was chiefly unjust in ascribing the ill-working of some of Hamilton’s measures to design; whereas, the inflation of values and the consequent mania for speculation were unforeseen, and were by no one more regretted than by Hamilton. The real grievances of the republicans at that moment were two: 1. Hamilton’s free-and-easy construction of the Constitution; 2. The interference of The Treasury Department with legislation. During that very week the republicans made a serious effort toward turning the Secretary of the Treasury and his allies out of the lobby by breaking up the system of referring questions to members of the Cabinet. After a long debate, the House adjourned without coming to a vote; but Madison and his friends went home that afternoon in the highest spirits, so sure were they of victory on the day following. During the evening, as they believed, the special adherents of the Secretary of the Treasury bestirred themselves with such effect that—to employ Jefferson’s own words—“The treasury carried it by thirty-one to twenty-seven.” But even this triumph was esteemed only the forerunner of defeat, so omnipotent had the treasury once been. “It showed,” Jefferson thought, “that treasury influence was tottering.”
So far, the personal intercourse between the two diverging ministers was agreeable; and we even observe in their official correspondence an apparent effort to conciliate. In March, 1792, Jefferson submitted the draft of a Cabinet paper for Hamilton’s review and emendation; and when it came back with comments, Jefferson appears to have made a point of accepting as many of his colleagues suggestions as possible. Out of ten emendations he adopted all but one, which would have involved a looser construction of the Constitution than he approved. As late as February, 1792 (a month before the conversation with the President), Jefferson, in returning his colleague’s Report on the Mint, commended the performance, suggested a change or two, and ended his note thus: “I hazard these thoughts to you extempore, and am, dear sir, respectfully and affectionately yours.”
This, however, was the year of the Presidential election. For the Presidency there was, indeed, but one candidate; but Mr. Adams’s incoherences upon Davila, and his son’s essays in the name of Publicola, cost him a severe contest for the Vice-Presidency George Clinton, of New York, being the candidate of the republicans. Need it be said that the two Gazettes, Fenno and Freneau, improved the occasion? But how mild the prose and verse of Captain Freneau compared with the vituperation and calumny which have since made the party press as powerless to abuse as to exalt!
On Davila’s page
Your discourse so sage
Democratical numsculls bepuzzle,
With arguments tough
As white leather or buff,
The republican bull-dogs to muzzle!
It is to be presumed that the Vice-President did not take seriously to heart such fooling as this, which is a fair enough specimen of “Jonathan Pindar’s” doggerel. Hamilton and his friends were assailed in prose not quite so pointless. Perhaps the following was as “severe” as most of the editorial paragraphs, if only from its containing a portion of truth: “The mask is at length torn from the monarchical party, who have, with but too much success, imposed themselves upon the public for the sincere friends of our republican Constitution. Whatever may be the event of the competition for the Vice-Presidency, it has been the happy occasion of ascertaining the two following important truths: First, that the name of Federalist has been assumed by men who approve the Constitution merely ‘as a promising essay toward a well-ordered government’; that is to say, as a step toward a government of king, lords, and commons. Secondly, that the spirit of the people continues firmly republican.” Often, however, the Secretary of the Treasury was specially designated, and his financial system was always condemned, as Jefferson condemned it in the hearing of the President.
When Hamilton read his Freneau, week after week, during that exciting summer of 1792, he read it, not at all as the publication of Captain Philip Freneau, mariner and poet, but, wholly and always, as the utterance of Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State. He was right, and he was wrong. Jefferson, to people like minded with himself, was a pervading and fascinating intelligence. His easy manners, his long experience, his knowledge of nature, men, and events, his sanguine trust in man, his freedom from inhuman pride, his prodigious Christianity, his great gifts, his great fame, and his great place, all conspired to make him the oracle of his circle, as he was the soul of his party. Freneau could not help infusing a good deal of Jefferson into almost everything he wrote. But although that was the only kind of influence which the Secretary of State ever exerted over the pen of his translating clerk, Hamilton could not believe it. He took it for granted that the National Gazette was edited in his colleague’s office, with his colleague’s assistance, for the purpose of subverting himself. Irritated and indignant, the Secretary of the Treasury composed, July 25, 1792, the epistle following, and had it inserted in the other Gazette, — the Gazette of the United States: —
Mr. Fenno: — The editor of the National Gazette receives a salary from government.
Quœre. Whether this salary is paid him for Translations, or for publications, the design of which is to vilify those to whom the voice of the people has committed the administration of our public affairs, — to oppose the measures of government, and, by false insinuations, to disturb the public peace?
In common life it is thought ungrateful for a man to bite the hand that puts bread in his mouth; but if the man is hired to do it, the case is altered.
Freneau was not politician enough, nor guilty enough, to pass by this hint in silence. He repelled the insinuation, which gave Hamilton a pretext for following it up. A series of strongly written, incisive articles from the pen of the Secretary of the Treasury appeared in Fenno, in which Jefferson was attacked by name. Some of these articles (there were twelve in all) were signed, “An American”; others, “Amicus”; others, “Catullus”; one, “Metellus”; one, “A Plain Honest Man”: but all of them are included in the authorized edition of the works of Alexander Hamilton. They appeared from time to time, during the rest of the Presidential “campaign,” calling forth replies from “Aristides” and other sages of antiquity, but eliciting no printed word from Jefferson. The burden of the earlier numbers was, that Mr. Freneau was brought from New York to Philadelphia, and quartered upon the government, by Mr. Jefferson, for the purpose of establishing a gazette hostile to the government. (Denied by Freneau on oath.) When that topic was exhausted, Colonel Hamilton endeavored to show, by fragments of Jefferson’s letters to Madison from France, that his colleague had been an original opponent of the Constitution. (Disproved by Madison’s publishing the whole of the quoted passages.) Hamilton proceeded to descant upon Mr. Jefferson’s indorsement of Paine’s reply to Burke: accusing him, first, of an intention to wound and injure Mr. Adams; and, secondly, of a dastardly denial of the same, when he found that “discerning and respectable men disapproved the step.” After relieving his mind of many a column of fluent and vigorous outrage, he called upon Mr. Jefferson to resign his office.
“If,” said Metellus, “he cannot coalesce with those with whom he is associated, as far as the rules of official decorum, propriety, and obligation may require, without abandoning what he conceives to be the true interest of the community, let him place himself in a situation in which he will experience no collision of opposite duties. Let him not cling to the honor or emolument of an office, whichever it may be that attracts him, and content himself with defending the injured rights of the people by obscure or indirect means. Let him renounce a situation which is a clog upon his patriotism.”
The effect upon the public mind of this ill-timed breach of official decorum was such as we should naturally suppose it would be. The thin disguise of the various signatures adopted by the Secretary of the Treasury deceived only readers distant from the capital, and them not long; for Hamilton, besides betraying himself by the power of his stroke, seems, in some passages, to have courted discovery, — pushing aside the gauzy folds of the curtain, and all but crying out, Behold, it is I, the administration! “Society” applauded. The drawing-room eyed Jefferson askance. It could not quite cut a Secretary of State, but its bow was as distant as its habitual deference to place and power would permit; and, to this day, if indeed we can be said to have a drawing-room now, it has loved to repeat the traditional disparagement. But the articles had not the political effect which their ingenious author intended; for, while they emphasized Jefferson’s position as the republican chief, they really—so Federalists themselves report—lowered Hamilton in the view of the country. He lost that prestige of reserve and mystery that gathers round a name associated in the public mind only with affairs of national magnitude and subjects of general importance. The people were not pleased to discover, in an adviser of the President, a partisan, positive, vehement, ingenious, and unjust, a coarse assailant of a name hallowed by its association with the birthday of the nation. Hamilton lost something which is of no value to an anonymous writer in a Presidential “campaign,” but is of immense value to a public man, — WEIGHT. And, with all this, he did not retard the development of the new-born opposition. George Clinton received fifty electoral votes for the Vice-Presidency, Jefferson four, and Burr one, to seventy-seven for Mr. Adams.
There was one man in the country who was great enough to do justice to both these men, and to feel only sorrow for their dissensions. How the President tried to reconcile them is a pleasing and noble passage of his history. He wrote a kind, manly letter to each of them, employing similar arguments and several identical phrases in both letters; reminding them of the difficulties and dangers of the country’s position, encompassed as it was by avowed enemies and insidious friends; and urging them to a more charitable interpretation of one another.
Both secretaries replied, as it chanced, on the same day, September 9, 1792. Hamilton owned that he had attacked his colleague in the newspapers, and, intimated that, for the present, he could not discontinue his assaults. He justified his conduct thus: “I know that I have been an object of uniform opposition from Mr. Jefferson, from the moment of his coming to the city of New York to enter upon his present office. I know, from the most authentic sources, that I have been the frequent subject of the most unkind whispers and insinuations from the same quarter. I have long seen a formed party in the legislature under his auspices, bent upon my subversion. I cannot doubt, from the evidence I possess, that the National Gazette was instituted by him for political purposes, and that one leading object of it has been to render me, and all the measures connected with my department, as odious as possible.” These, however, were personal wrongs, which he had resolved to bear in silence. But when he saw that a party had been formed “deliberately bent upon the subversion of measures which, in its consequences, would subvert the government,” then he had felt it to be his duty to defeat the nefarious purpose by “drawing aside the veil from the principal actors.”
Jefferson’s reply was long, vehement, and powerful. So far as it was exculpatory of himself, it was perfectly successful; but, at such a moment, he must have been either more or less than man to have been just to his antagonist. Nor is there any one now alive competent to say precisely how far he was unjust to him. Who can tell us to what point “treasury influence” may have influenced legislation, and how far Colonel Hamilton may have deemed it right and legitimate to enlist the interests of men on the side of what he called “government”? One thing we do know: the rule which Jefferson prescribed for his own conduct as a member of the Cabinet is the true republican rule. “If,” said he, “it has been supposed that I have ever intrigued among the members of the legislature to defeat the plans of the Secretary of the Treasury, it is contrary to all truth. As I never had the desire to influence the members, so neither had I any other means than my friendships, which I valued too highly to risk by usurpations on their freedom of judgment and the conscientious pursuit of their own sense of duty.”
This was the right view to take of the limits prescribed by the spirit of the Constitution to his place. But, though we know Hamilton gloried in holding an opposite opinion, we do not know how far he carried his ideas in practice. That he interfered habitually in legislation, and was proud of his success in so doing, his letters plainly reveal. Jefferson charges him with using his power as minister of finance to control votes. “That I have utterly,” writes the Secretary of State, “in my private conversations, disapproved of the system of the Secretary of the Treasury, I acknowledge and avow; and this was not merely a speculative difference. His system flowed from principles adverse to liberty, and was calculated to undermine and demolish the Republic, by creating an influence of his department over the members of the legislature. I saw this influence actually produced, and its first fruits to be the establishment of the great outlines of his project by the votes of the very persons who, having swallowed his bait, were laying themselves out to profit by his plans; and that, had these persons withdrawn, as those interested in a question ever should, the vote of the disinterested majority was clearly the reverse of what they made it.” He accused his colleague, too, of defeating the system of favoring French commerce and retaliating British restrictions, by cabals with members of Congress.
Another retort of Jefferson’s gives pause to the modern inquirer. Who can say, with anything like certainty, whether, in the passage following, Mr. Jefferson uttered truth pure and simple, or truth colored, distorted, and exaggerated by antipathy?
“I have never inquired,” said he, “what number of sons, relations, and friends of senators, representatives, printers, or other useful partisans Colonel Hamilton has provided for among the hundred clerks of his department, the thousand excisemen, custom-house officers, loan officers, appointed by him, or at his nod, and spread over the Union; nor could ever have imagined, that the man who has the shuffling of millions backwards and forwards from paper into money, and money into paper, from Europe to America, and America to Europe, the dealing out of treasury secrets among his friends in what time and measure he pleases, and who never slips an occasion of making friends with his means, — that such a one, I say, would have brought forward a charge against me for having appointed the poet Freneau translating clerk to my office with a salary of two hundred and fifty dollars a year.”
A passage followed, in relation to this appointment, which had a wonderful currency years ago, and is still occasionally revived. He declared, that, in appointing Freneau, he had been actuated by the motive which had induced him to recommend to the President for public employment such characters as Rittenhouse, Barlow, and Paine. “I hold it,” he added, “to be one of the distinguishing excellences of an elective over hereditary succession, that the talents, which nature has provided in sufficient proportion, should be selected by the society for the government of their affairs, rather than that this should be transmitted through the loins of knaves and fools, passing from the debauchees of the table to those of the bed.”
In conclusion, he said that, as the time of his retirement from office was so near (only six months distant), he should postpone any public reply which he might deem it best to make to the Fenno articles until he was a private citizen, — a period to which he looked “with the longing of a wave-worn mariner, who has at length the land in view, and shall count the days and hours which still lie between me and it.” Then he would be free to defend himself without disturbing the quiet of the President; but if he did break silence, he should subscribe his name to whatever he wrote. Conscious, he said, of having merited the esteem of his countrymen, which he dearly prized, by an integrity which could not be reproached, and by an enthusiastic devotion to their rights and to liberty, he “would not suffer his retirement to be clouded by the slanders of a man whose history, from the moment at which history could stoop to notice him, was a tissue of machinations against the liberty of the country which had not only received and given him bread, but heaped its honors upon his head.” But during the short time he had to remain in office, he should find “ample employment in closing the present business of the department.”
This letter was written at Monticello. On his way to Philadelphia he stopped, as usual, at Mount Vernon, when the President renewed the subject in conversation, and urged him to reconsider his intention to resign; for he “thought it important to preserve the check of his opinions in the administration to keep things in the proper channel and prevent them from going too far.” The check! The check to what? The President said he did not believe there were ten men, worth consideration, in the country, who had so much as a thought of transforming the republic into a monarchy. Mr. Jefferson replied that there was “a numerous sect who had monarchy in contemplation, of whom the Secretary of the Treasury was one.” The most intimate friend Hamilton ever had was Gouverneur Morris, who pronounced his funeral oration. This exquisite writer stated Hamilton’s opinions at much length in 1811, in a letter to Robert Walsh of Philadelphia. The following are some of Morris’s expressions: “General Hamilton disliked the Constitution, believing all republican government radically defective. … He hated republican government. … He trusted that, in the changes and chances of time, we should be involved in some war, which might strengthen our union and nerve the executive. … He never failed on every occasion to advocate the excellence of, and avow his attachment to, monarchical government.” The other points of difference were gone over, but without lessening Mr. Jefferson’s passionate desire to retire from public life. But, on reaching Philadelphia, friends insisted on his remaining in office with such pertinacity, and offered reasons so cogent, that he knew not how either to rebut or accept them.
No language can overstate his longing for retreat. Six months before the Fenno assaults began, this had been the burden of his letters to his family and friends. “The ensuing year,” he wrote to his daughter, in March, 1792, “will be the longest of my life, and the last of such hateful labors; the next, we will sow our cabbages together.” To other friends he said that the 4th of March, 1793, was to him what land was to Columbus. He had sent to Scotland for one of the new threshing-machines, and a plough of his invention had recently won a medal in France. He had engaged mechanics in Europe to work upon his house, and upon other schemes which he had formed. He was packing his books in view of the termination of the lease of his house in Philadelphia, and had arranged for one of its inmates, “Jack Eppes,” to enter William and Mary in the spring. Schemes upon schemes were forming in his mind for extricating his great estate from encumbrance, and turning its latent resources to better account than could be expected from overseers. But the attacks in the newspapers and the hostility of powerful classes, though they intensified his desire for repose, seemed to interpose a barrier which he could not pass. He was torn with contending emotions. “I have been,” he wrote to his daughter in January, 1793, “under an agitation of mind which I scarcely ever experienced before, produced by a check in my purpose of returning home at the close of this session of Congress.” Madison, Monroe, Page, Randolph, all friends and all partisans, united in the opinion that he must not give the Federalists the triumph of being able to say, with an appearance of truth, that Hamilton had driven him from office. He consented, at length, to remain a short time longer. He sent most of his library home, sold the bulkier articles of his furniture, gave up his house, took three rooms in the suburbs, and “held himself in readiness to take his departure for Monticello the first moment he could do it with due respect to himself.” Thus he wrote to the father of “Jack Eppes,” in April, 1793.
But why this agonizing desire for retirement? Thereby hangs a tale. If we give ten reasons for a certain course of conduct, there is often an eleventh which we do not give; and that unspoken one is apt to be the reason. He could no longer afford to serve the public on the terms fixed by Congress. It was not merely that his salary did not pay the cost of his Philadelphia establishment, nor that his estate was ill-managed by overseers. An ancient debt hung, as he says, like a mill-stone round his neck,” — a debt which he had twice paid, although not incurred by him. Upon the death of his wife’s father, twenty years before, he had received property from his estate worth forty thousand dollars, but subject to a British debt of thirteen thousand. Impatient of debt, he sold a fine farm near Monticello for a sum sufficient to discharge it; but by the time he received the money, the war of the Revolution had begun. Virginia invited all men owing money to Great Britain to deposit the same in her treasury, the State agreeing to pay it over to the British creditor after the war. The identical coin which Jefferson received for his farm he himself carried to the treasury in Williamsburg, where it was immediately expended in equipping troops.
The Legislature of Virginia, however, thought better of this policy, rescinded the resolution, and returned the sums received under it. But Jefferson was obliged to take back his thirteen thousand dollars in depreciated paper, which continued to depreciate until it was worthless. In fact, the thirteen thousand dollars just sufficed to buy him one garment; and in riding by that farm, in after years, he would sometimes point to it, and say, laughing, “That farm I once sold for an overcoat.” At the end of the war, during which Cornwallis destroyed more than enough of his property to pay this debt, he had, as he remarked, “to lay his shoulders to the payment of it a third time,” in addition to a considerable debt of his own incurred just before the outbreak of hostilities. “What the laws of Virginia,” he wrote to his creditor in England, “are, or may be, will in no wise influence my conduct. Substantial justice is my object, as decided by reason, not by authority or compulsion.” Ever since the war closed, he had been struggling to reduce these debts; and, finally, made an arrangement for paying them off at the rate of four hundred pounds sterling a year. How easy this ought to have been to a person owning ten thousand acres of excellent land, one hundred and fifty-four slaves, thirty-four horses, five mules, two hundred and forty-nine cattle, three hundred and ninety hogs, and three sheep”! But only two thousand acres of his land were cultivated, nine of his horses were used for the saddle, and the labor of his slaves had been, for ten years, directed by overseers. In 1793, the greater part of the debt remained to be discharged, and he saw, whenever he visited Monticello, such evidences of “the ravages of overseers,” as filled him with alarm. He had now a son-in-law to settle, a second daughter to establish, a mountainous debt to pay, a high office to live up to, and an estate going to ruin. Behold his eleventh, unuttered reason for the frenzy which possessed him to live at home.
He might well desire to see the reign of overseers brought to an end on his estate. Readers remember, perhaps, General Washington’s experience with them. How, when he owned one hundred and one cows, he was compelled to buy butter for his own table; and how, after building one of the best barns in the country, where thirty men could conveniently wield the flail, he could not prevent his manager from treading out the grain with horses, — so impossible was it, he says, “to put the overseers of this country out of the track they have been accustomed to walk in.” He reached home for his annual vacation in 1793, about the middle of September, and caught this truly conservative gentleman in the act. “I found a treading-yard,” wrote the President, “not thirty feet from the barn-door, the wheat again brought out of the barn, and horses treading it out in an open exposure, liable to the vicissitudes of weather.” With such men to manage, the General thought the new threshing-machine would have a brief existence. What need there was, then, of the master’s eye upon an encumbered estate!
Jefferson settled to his work again in Philadelphia, and watched for a good opportunity to resign. Through the good offices of the President, a truce was arranged between the two hostile secretaries, who tried their best to co-operate in peace, not without success. Hamilton, in particular, was scrupulously careful to avoid the error of interfering, or seeming to interfere, in his colleague’s department. At heart each felt the sincerity and patriotic intentions of the other, and Jefferson had even an exaggerated idea of Hamilton’s ability. The elections, too, of 1792, had strengthened the republicans in Congress, who gained a decisive triumph in the first month of the session by defeating (thirty-five to eleven) a proposition to allow members of the Cabinet to attend the House of Representatives and explain “their measures” to the House. This made it easier for Jefferson to continue. And, besides, the French Revolution, of late, had turned in arms upon the kings banded against it, and seemed to be able, contrary to all expectation, to hold its own. As yet, nearly all America was in enthusiastic sympathy with France. When the news arrived of a movement favorable to the French, the “monocrats,” as Jefferson styled the Othercrats, made wry faces; but the republicans set the bells ringing, illuminated their houses, and wore a tricolored cockade in their hats.
The time was at hand when the youngest of the nations would need in its government the best talent it could command, and, above all, in the department which directed its intercourse with foreign nations. The French king had been dethroned, and was about to be brought to trial, all the world looking on with an interest difficult now to conceive. It stirred Jefferson’s indignation sometimes to observe that mankind were more attentive to the sufferings of the king and queen than to the welfare of the people of France. “Such are the fruits,” he once wrote, “of that form of government which heaps importance upon idiots, and which the tories of the present day are trying to preach into our favor.” It pleased many of the republicans, however, to learn that Thomas Paine, one of themselves, was exerting himself ably to save the king’s life. Paine said in the convention, that “Louis Capet,” — if he had been slightly favored by fortune, if he had been born in a private station, in “an amiable and respectable neighborhood,” — would have been, in all probability, a virtuous citizen; but, cursed from the dawn of his reason with ceaseless adulation, and reared in “brutal luxury,” he was a victim of monarchy, as well as the agent of its ill-working. England, he reminded the convention, had cut off the head of a very bad Charles Stuart, only to be cursed; a few years after, with a worse; but when, forty years later, England had banished the Stuarts, there was an end of their doing harm in the world.
What a happy stroke was this in a French Assembly! He followed it up by offering to accompany the fallen king to the only ally France then had, the United States, where the people regarded him as their friend. “His execution, I assure you,” said this master of effective composition, “will diffuse among them a general grief. I propose to you to conduct Louis to the United States. After a residence of two years, Mr. Capet will find himself a citizen of America. Miserable in this country, to which his absence will be a benefit, he will be furnished the means of becoming happy in another.”
There was a passage in this speech to which the bloody scenes about to occur in Paris give a singular significance. Part of the long period of reaction towards barbaric (i. e. ancient) ideas and institutions, which began with the French guillotine, and from which we are only now emerging, might have been spared mankind if Thomas Paine could have spoken French as well as he wrote English, and brought this warning home to the convention with the oratorical power of a Mirabeau. “Monarchical governments,” he said, “have trained the human race, and inured it to the sanguinary arts and refinements of punishment; and it is exactly the same punishment which has so long shocked the sight and tormented the patience of the people, that now, in their turn, they practise in revenge upon their oppressors. But it becomes us to be strictly on our guard against the abomination and perversity of monarchical examples. As France has been the first to abolish royalty, let her also be the first to abolish the punishment of death.” In these words spoke the humane spirit in which the French Revolution originated.
The execution of the king, January 21, 1793, saddened every well-constituted mind in Europe and America. It lessened the sympathy of a vast number of persons with the Revolution; and all but the most extreme republicans felt in some degree the infinite impolicy of the act. From that time the good-will of mankind for unhappy France would have more sensibly diminished, but that the world in arms seemed gathering for her destruction.
It was a mad time. The manager of a Philadelphia theatre thought it opportune to revive the tragedy of Cato. Before the play began, the company of actors sang upon the stage La Marseillaise, when the whole theatre rose, and joined in the chorus. At the end of each act this performance was repeated. Every evening, afterwards, as soon as the musicians entered the orchestra, a cry arose for La Marseillaise, and no other music would be listened to. Usually, some portion of the audience caught the fury of the piece and thundered out the familiar refrain. But as the guillotine continued its ravages, the enthusiasm decreased; and, instead of the universal and deafening demand for the French hymn, there would be, at length, only a score or two of voices from the gallery, all the rest of the house sitting in grim silence. Finally, on a night long remembered in the theatre, one defiant soul ventured to give the usual sign of disapproval. Instantly the whole house burst into one overwhelming hiss; and never was the terrible piece played again. Soon the new song of Hail Columbia took its place in popular regard, and was, for some years, played at every theatre just before the rising of the curtain.
The change of government in France produced political complications with which the Cabinet of General Washington had to deal at once and practically. Questions of law and of finance, as well as of opinion and sentiment, had to be, not only discussed, but rightly decided under penalty of being drawn into the maelstrom of the war. Our two “cocks,” exasperated by previous encounters, were now pitted against each other every day; but they were under bonds to keep the peace, and each was further restrained by the perils of the situation. Hamilton, by himself, might have involved the country in an entangling alliance with the powers hostile to the Revolution. Jefferson alone might have found it difficult to avoid a too helpful sympathy with beleaguered, bewildered France. The result of their antagonism was an honorable neutrality, useful to France, not injurious to the allies, and exceedingly profitable to the United States.
How irreconcilable they were in their feelings respecting the great events of 1793! “Sir,” said Hamilton, in August, to Edmund Randolph, “if all the people in America were now assembled, and were to call on me to say whether I am a friend to the French Revolution, I would declare that I have it in abhorrence.” Jefferson, on the contrary, wrote thus to his old friend Short, just before the execution of the king: “My own affections have been deeply wounded by some of the martyrs to this cause; but rather than it should have failed, I would have seen half the earth desolated! Were there but an Adam and an Eve left in every country, and left free, it would be better than as it now is.”
Gouverneur Morris was then American Minister in France, — a very able gentleman and honorably frank in the avowal of his opinions. Mark this striking sentence, written by him as far back as 1790: “The French Assembly have taken genius instead of reason for their guide, adopted experiment instead of experience, and wander in the dark because they prefer lightning to light.” He meant Mirabeau. But, a few weeks after, writing to General Washington, he gave such a list of the ancient abuses which the Revolution had abolished as amount to a compensation to France for all the Revolutionary miseries she has suffered from Mirabeau to Thiers. As the Revolution advanced, though Jefferson, in official instructions, had cautioned him to avoid the utterance of opinions hostile to the Revolution, he gave such offence to the Revolutionary leaders that Lafayette complained of it to the President. But, in 1792, he redeemed himself nobly. Upon the dethronement of the king, when all the diplomatic corps left Paris, the American Minister alone, rightly interpreting his mission, remained. “The position, as he truly wrote to Mr. Jefferson, is not without danger; but I presume that when the President did me the honor of naming me to this embassy, it was not for my personal pleasure or safety, but to promote the interests of my country.” And he remained at his post all through the period of the terror, though the Ministry gave him pretexts enough for abandoning it, and though even the sanctuary of his abode was violated by a committee in search of arms. The fury of the people, he wrote to Mr. Jefferson, was such as to render them capable of all excesses without being accountable for them. The calm courage and utter frankness of this splendid old tory conciliates the modern reader. The French Ministry, however, abhorred him to such a point that they made it a matter of formal complaint to Mr. Jefferson, that this representative of a republic, in a despatch addressed to the government of a republic (a few days old), had used the familiar expression, “Les ordres de MA COUR.”
But the Cabinet question was this The king being dethroned, who was authorized to give a valid receipt for the money which the United States was paying to France from time to time? Upon this point, the orders of Gouverneur Morris’s court were necessary; and the real secret of the animosity of the French ministers was, that he would not and could not pay over to them the sums due nominally to the king. The ministers remonstrated in their own way, and sent complaints across the sea. Morris, at his own table and in the hearing of his servants, indulged himself in calling them a set of damned rascals, and in predicting (he was curiously fond of prophesying) that the king would have his own again. Upon the pecuniary question, the opinions of the Cabinet were divided.
Jefferson’s opinion: Every people may establish what form of government they please, and change it as often as they please. But the National Assembly of France, to which all power had fallen by necessity upon the removal of the king, had not been elected by the people of France as an executive body. For the moment, therefore, the French government was, at best, incomplete. But a National Convention had been elected in full view of the crisis, and for the express purpose of meeting its requirements. That Convention would be, when organized, a legitimate government, qualified to give a valid receipt to the United States.
Hamilton’s opinion: He doubted whether the Convention would be a legitimate body. In case the monarchy should be re-established, the king might disallow payments made to it. He was for stopping payment altogether until there was something more stable and regular established in France.
On this occasion, General Knox, Secretary of War, ventured to express an opinion. “For once,” says Jefferson, “Knox dared to differ from Hamilton, and to express very submissively an opinion that a convention named by the whole body of the nation would be competent to do anything.” The result was, that the Secretary of State was requested to write to Gouverneur Morris, directing him to suspend payments until further orders. A few days after arrived the despatches in which the French Ministry complained of the too candid Morris and of his insolent contempt of a sister republic in speaking of “ma cour.” Upon this delicate subject the President conversed with the Secretary of State in a manner which exhibits the situation.
THE PRESIDENT. The extracts from Ternant (French plenipotentiary in Philadelphia) I consider very serious, in short, as decisive. I see that Gouverneur Morris can be no longer continued there consistently with the public good. The moment is critical in our favor (that is, for getting free-trade with the French West Indies and freer trade with France) and ought not to be lost. Yet I am extremely at a loss what arrangement to make.
JEFFERSON. Might not Gouverneur Morris and Pinckney (American Minister in England) change places?
THE PRESIDENT. That would be a sort of remedy, but not a radical one. If the French Ministry conceive Gouverneur Morris to be hostile to them, if they were jealous merely on his proposing to visit London, they will never be satisfied with us at placing him in London permanently. You have unfixed the day on which you intended to resign; yet you appear fixed in doing it at no great distance of time. In that case, I cannot but wish that you would go to Paris. The moment is important. You possess the confidence of both sides, and might do great good. I wish you could do it, were it only to stay there a year or two.
JEFFERSON. My mind is so bent on retirement that I cannot think of launching forth again on a new business. I can never again cross the Atlantic. As to the opportunity of doing good, this is likely to be the scene of action, as Genet is bringing powers to do the business here. I cannot think of going abroad.
THE PRESIDENT. You have pressed me to continue in the public service, and refuse to do the same yourself.
JEFFERSON. The case is different. You unite the confidence of all America, and you are the only person who does so. Your services, therefore, are of the last importance. But, for myself, my going out would not be noted or known. A thousand others can supply my place to equal advantage, and, therefore, I feel myself free.
THE PRESIDENT. Consider maturely, then, what arrangement shall be made.
Here the conversation ended. Mr. Jefferson did not remind the President of the vast difference in their pecuniary condition. He did not remark that General Washington was so rich a man that not even the ravages of Virginia overseers could quite ruin him, but that Thomas Jefferson could only continue to serve the public at the imminent risk of financial destruction.
Meanwhile, Genet was coming, — the first minister sent by the Republic of France to the Republic of the United States. The republicans of the United States awaited his arrival with inexpressible ardor, and were prepared to give him one of those “receptions” for which the country has since become noted, — receptions which are so amusing and agreeable to all but the victim. Colonel Hamilton was by no means elated at the prospect of his coming. At a Cabinet meeting a short time before the landing of the expected minister, he had dropped this remark: “When Mr. Genet arrives, whether we shall receive him or not will then be a question for discussion.”