The French Imbroglio of 1798
WHETHER the people of the United States should govern or be governed, or, in other words, whether America should remain America or become merely a greater Britain,— that was the issue in the infuriate Presidential election of 1800. The issue was confused, as it always is, by intrigue, accident, and personality ; but the people saw it clearly enough ; for of all the devices of man for clarifying and disseminating truth, nothing has yet been invented so effective as one of our hotly contested Presidential elections. Millions of lies are generated only to be consumed ; and the two warring principles stand at last clearly revealed, for each man to choose, according to his nature. Never once, from 1789 to 1872, have the people of the United States failed to reach a decision which, upon the whole, was best; not once, little as some of us could think so on the morning after certain elections that could be named.
The discussion, which had begun in the privacy of President Washington’s Cabinet in 1790, between American Jefferson and British Hamilton, at length divided the nation into two par-
ties. The representative individuals who began it were now in situations that seemed to withdraw them from the arena of strife, — Hamilton a lawyer at the New York bar, Jefferson in the chair of the Senate ; and yet it was about these two men that the strife concentrated. It was still Hamilton who led the party of reaction ; it was still Jefferson who inspired the Republicans, each deeply and entirely convinced that upon the supremacy of his ideas depended, not the welfare of America only, but the happiness of man. What a might there is in disinterested conviction ! It sometimes invests common talents with a farreaching and late-enduring power which unprincipled genius never wields.
And it so chanced in this first year of Mr. Adams’s Presidency, 1797, that both these individuals, without agency of their own and to their extreme annoyance, were invested with a new and intense conspicuousness. They awoke to find “ the eyes of the universe” fixed upon them.
In April, 1796, in the heat of the debates upon the Jay treaty, Mr. Jefferson had occasion to write a long letter of business to his old neighbor, Mazzei, then happily settled in his native Italy. By way of a friendly finish to a letter of dull detail, he appended a short paragraph upon politics, writing hastily and without reserves, as republican to republican. He told Mazzei that, since he had left America, the aspect of politics had wonderfully changed. An Anglican monarchical and aristocratical party had sprung up, small in numbers but high in station, whose avowed object was to draw us over to the substance, as they had already to the forms, of the British government. On the side of republicanism pure and simple were these three,— the people, the planters, and the talents ; against republicanism pure and simple, placemen, office-seekers, the Senate, “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.” He added these observations: “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 preserve 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 Liliputian cords with which they have been entangling us during the first sleep which succeeded our labors.”
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1873, by JAMES R. OSGOOD & Co., in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
Upon receiving this letter, Mazzei translated the political paragraph into Italian, and had it inserted in one of the newspapers of Florence, as an extract from a letter from Thomas Jefferson, late Secretary of State of the United States. The editor of the Paris Moniteur espied it, translated it into French, and transferred it to his journal. An American editor translated it back into English, printed it, and soon all America was ringing with it.
It would be difficult to compress into a few lines a greater amount of exasperating offence than Jefferson had managed to pack into these ; for it was not individuals who were hit, but classes, and classes too that had weapons with which to return the stroke. The passage had another peculiarity : to the few extreme Federalists it had the bitter sting of truth ; while the mass of the party honestly resented it as calumny. Nor could the writer disavow or explain it away, despite the errors of translation that intensified some phrases. Upon reflection, and after consultation with Madison, he decided to adhere to his ancient rule, and publish not a word of personal explanation. But nothing that Jefferson ever did or wrote in his whole life gave such deep, wide, and lasting offence as this hasty postscript, written in the heat of controversy, and published with criminal thoughtlessness by a sincere friend four thousand miles away. Those figures of speech which are the natural utterance of a kindled mind, how they delight and mislead the unconcerned hearer ; how they rankle in the wounds of self-love !
Hamilton’s affair was a thousand times worse than this ; and yet, strange to say, it gave less offence, and seemed to be sooner forgotten. To clear himself from a charge of peculation during his tenure of the Treasury, he was obliged to publish in great detail the history of his amour with a married woman, named Reynolds. His pamphlet on this subject will be valuable to any one who may desire to pursue Mr. Lecky’s line of investigation in America, and get further light upon the history of morals. It is a highly interesting fact, that A. D. 1797 one of the foremost men of the United States, a person who valued himself upon his moral principle, and was accepted by a powerful party at his own valuation in that particular, should have felt it to be a far baser thing to cheat men of their money than to despoil women of their honor. In this pamphlet he puts his honorable wife to an open shame, and publishes to the world the frailty of the woman who had gratified him; and this to refute a calumny which few would have credited. His conduct in this affair throws light upon his political course. He could be false to women for the same reason that he could disregard the will of the people. He did not look upon a woman as a person and an equal with whom faith was to be kept, any more than he recognized the people as the master and the owner whose will was law. Original in nothing, he took his morals from one side of the Straits of Dover and his politics from the other.
What more amusing than the highstepping morality of the opening of this pamphlet, where the author declares that the spirit of Jacobinism (Hamilton’s word for the opinions of his opponents) threatens more mischief to the world than the three great scourges, War, Pestilence, and Famine ; and that it is, in fact, nothing other than “ a conspiracy of Vice against Virtue ! ” It was after preluding upon this theme, that the representative of Injured Innocence told his story. In the summer of 1791, a woman had called at his house in Philadelphia, and asked to speak with him in private. As soon as they were alone, she had related a piteous tale ; how her husband, after treating her cruelly, had left her destitute and gone off to live with another woman. She now desired only to get home to her friends in New York, and, knowing that Colonel Hamilton was a New-Yorker, she had ventured to come to him, as a countryman, and ask him to give her money enough for the journey. He replied that her situation was interesting, and that he was disposed to help her, but he had no money, — a very common case with the Secretary of the Treasury. He told her to leave her address, and he would call or send in the evening.
“ In the evening,” he says, “ I put a bank-bill in my pocket and went to the house. I inquired for Mrs. Reynolds, and was shown up stairs, at the head of which she met me, and conducted me into a bedroom. I took the bill out of my pocket and gave it to her. Some conversation ensued, from which it quickly appeared that other than pecuniary consolation would be acceptable. After this I had frequent meetings with her, most of them at my own house; Mrs. Hamilton with her children being absent on a visit to her father,”
These “frequent meetings,” which began in July, continued until December, when they were rudely interrupted by the return of the husband and his discovery of what had occurred in his absence. The honorable Secretary received one morning a chaotic letter from Mrs. Reynolds, who had then become “ Maria” to him, in which she announced the appalling fact, in the ladies’ spelling of the period, that irate Reynolds “has swore if he dose not se or hear from you to day, he will write Mrs. Hamilton.”
A letter not less chaotic, nor better spelled, soon arrived from the husband ; and this led to an interview between the husband and the paramour,— not at Weehawken, but in Colonel Hamilton’s house. The consolation which the husband desired could not be described as “ other than pecuniary.” He asked for a place under government. But Colonel Hamilton was never capable of the infamy of saddling such a fellow upon the public service. In the vain attempt to shut the man’s mouth, he committed very great folly, it is true, but not crime: he tried to buy his silence with money,— with a thousand dollars, paid in two instalments; six hundred dollars on the 22d of December, 1791, and the remainder January 3, 1792. The reader knows very well what followed; for he lives in the advanced year 1873, when the truth is familiar that blackmail is a case of interminable subtraction. The thousand dollars which was squeezed with so much difficulty out of a small salary kept the noble Reynolds quiet for fourteen days. On the 17th of January, 1792, the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States had the pleasure of receiving the following note : —
“ Sir I suppose you will be surprised in ray writing to you Repeatedly as I do. but dont be Alarmed for its Mrs. R. wish to See you. and for My own happiness and hers. I have not the Least Objections to your Calling. as a friend to Bouth of us. and must Rely intirely on your and her honnor. when I conversed with you last. I told you it would be disagreeable to me for you to Call, but Sence, I am pritty well Convinsed, She would onely wish to See you as a friend, and sence I am Reconsiled to live with her, I would wish to do every thing for her happiness and my own, and Time may ware of every thing, So dont fail in Calling as Soon as you Can make it Conveanant. and I Rely on your befriending me if there should any thing offer that would be to my advantage, as you Express a wish to befrind me. So I am yours to Serve
From this letter it appeared that Mr. Reynolds wished to open a new account with a gentleman who was so free with his money. But the burnt child avoided the fire. Colonel Hamilton did not call. Late one evening, a maid-servant left at his door an epistle still more moving from “Maria” herself. She could “ neither Eate nor sleep.” She had been on the point of doing “the moast horrid acts,” the thought of which made her “shuder.” She felt that she was not long for this world ; and all she asked was to “se ” him once more. “ For God sake,” she concluded, “be not so voed of all humannity as to deni me this Last request but if you will not Call some time this night I no its late but any tim between this and twelve A Clock I shall be up Let me Intreat you If you wont Come to send me a Line oh my head I can rite no more do something to Ease My heart or Els I no not what I shall do for so I cannot live Commit this to the care of my maid be not offended I beg.”
But even this tender appeal did not bring the truant to her feet. She wrote again two days after, on “ Wensday Morning ten of Clock,” imploring him “if he has the Least Esteeme for the unhappy Maid whos grateest fault Is loveing him that he will come as soon as he shall get this and till that time My breaste will be the seate of pain and woe.” Nor did she omit the truly feminine postscript: “ P. S. If you cannot come this Evening to stay just come only for one moment as I shal be Lone Mr. is going to sup with a friend from New York.” This postscript, it is to be feared, proved too much for the “virtue” of a man against whom the spirit of Jacobinism had formed a conspiracy with vice. At least we know that relations between the woman and the Cabinet minister were re-established and that the husband promptly brought in his bill. If we may judge from the specimens of receipts signed James Reynolds which Hamilton gives in his pamphlet, we may conclude that whenever James Reynolds felt the need of a little money, which was only too often, he was in the habit of applying to the honorable Secretary of the Treasury for a small loan ; which alas ! the Secretary dared not refuse. He responded promptly, too ; for we find the receipt bearing the same date as the begging letter.
What a snarl for the leader of a national party to be caught in, in the year of a Presidential election,— the wife pestering him with her tears and her awful letters, and the husband bleeding him every few weeks of a fiftydollar bill, so needed for his own teeming household ! We cannot wonder that he should have broken out, in that indecorous manner, in the newspapers, against his colleague. The affair became loathsome beyond expression, and he could get neither peace nor respite. With a shabby servant-girl leaving crumpled notes at his door at nine o’clock in the evening, and a man of the Reynolds stamp, to whom he dared not deny a private interview, hanging round his office in the daytime, he could not hope long to escape suspicion, if he did detection ; and, as time went on, the importunities of both became alarmingly frequent. If he abstained from going near the woman for a few days, he received a letter from the husband, begging him to call.
“ Sir I am sorry to be the barer of So disagreeable, an unhappy infermation. I must tell you Sir that I have bin the most unhappiest man, for this five days in Existance, which you aught to be the last person I ever Should tell my troubls to. ever Sence the night you Called and gave her the Blank Paper. She has treated me more Cruel than pen cant paint out. and Ses that She is determed never to be a wife to me any more, and Ses that it is a plan of ours. what has past god knows I Freely forgive you and dont wish to give you fear or pain a moment on the account of it. now Sir I hope you will give me your advise as freely as if Nothing had ever passed Between us I think it is in your power to make matter all Easy again, and I suppose you to be that Man of fealing that you would wish to make every person happy Where it in your power I shall wate to See you at the office if its Convenant. I am sir with Asteem yours
Only six days passed before the husband handed in his account. The date of the note just given was April 17. The date of the following was April 23d : —
“ Sir I am sorry I am in this disagreeable sutivation which Obliges me to trouble you So offen as I do. but I hope it wont be long before it will be In my power to discharge what I am indebted to you Nothing will give me greater pleasure I must Sir ask the loan of thirty dollars more from you, which I shall asteem as a particular favour. and you may Rest ashured that I will pay you with Strickest Justice. for the Reliefe you have aforded me, the Inclosed is the Receipt for the thirty dollars. I shall wate at your Office. Sir for an answer I am sir your very Humble Servant,
The connection became intolerable to the victim at last, and he contrived to shake it off. But Reynolds, five years after, finding himself in jail for debt, thought to extricate himself by selling Hamilton’s good name to his political opponents ; and he had letters to show, in Hamilton’s own hand, proving that, between this dastardly and ignorant wretch and the Secretary of the Treasury, some incongruous connection involving pecuniary transactions had existed. It was to explain the incongruity, that, in July, 1797, Hamilton felt himself obliged to publish the pamphlet relating the rise and progress of this “ amorous intrigue,” with enough of the letters to show that the sinner in the case was not the Honorable Secretary of the Treasury, but only a weak, vain, and limited human being, named Alexander Hamilton.
Public opinion might have judged Hamilton with almost as much severity for this amour as the Federalists condemned Jefferson for his Mazzei paragraph, if public events had not given a brief but overwhelming ascendency to the political system which Hamilton represented. By the time his pamphlet had made its way through the remoter States, the French imbroglio assumed a character that destroyed in a moment (and for a moment) all that popular sympathy with France which had constituted a great part of the political capital of the Republican party. For a time, say about a year, Republicanism was under a cloud ; and that man was the hero of every circle who was loudest against France. Hamilton saw his dream of a consolidating war on the point of realization. The poor man was excessively vain of his military prowess, and had no more doubt of his eminent fitness to command an army than Lord John Russell was once supposed to have of his ability to command the Channel fleet. It was a bewildering turn in public affairs for a man who regarded war as the noblest vocation of human beings, who esteemed himself singularly endowed by nature to shine in that vocation, and who felt that only a war could save “social order” in the United States.
It was the exploits of three French “ strikers,” that deceived and maddened the American people in 1798. Vainglorious Americans pretend that striking is an American invention, practised first in New York, and then at Albany, upon persons interested in a pending act. “ Pay me five thousand dollars,” says the professional striker, “and your bill will pass.” And no man can say whether or not the bill passes in consequence of the striker’s influence, or whether the striking was or was not authorized by members. It was the Eastern Continent, not the Western, that originated this fine device.
President Adams carried out his scheme of sending to France an imposing embassy of three gentlemen of the first distinction. The Directory had refused to receive one American plenipotentiary, General C. C. Pinckney ; refused even to give him “cards of hospitality,” legalizing his residence in Paris; and, finally (January 25, 1797), notified him that he had no legal right to remain in France. The cause of this remarkable behavior was the Jay treaty ; or, as the French government styled it, “the condescension of the American government to its ancient tyrants.” Imagine the effect in the United States of an insult so emphatic and so unprovoked ! The best friends of France were the most wounded and dismayed ; while the party in power, in extra session of Congress assembled, voted everything short of downright war, and might even have precipitated actual hostilities, but for the overshadowing, portentous prestige of General Bonaparte. In the nick of time was published an “ Order of the Day,” dated “ 30 Germinal, An V ” (or, vulgarly, April 19, 1797), in which that “ Général en Chef” informed his army, in five lines, that the preliminaries of peace had been signed the day before between the Emperor of Austria and the French Republic. This brief document notified mankind that General Bonaparte, with resources vastly increased, was now free to direct his exclusive attention to the war with perfidious Albion, either by way of Calais and Dover, or Egypt and Calcutta. This intelligence, as Jefferson remarked at the time, “ cooled the ardent spirits,” and, therefore, instead of war, we had the grand embassy, — C. C. Pinckney, John Marshall, and Elbridge Gerry. Pinckney and Marshall were Federalists; Gerry, a Republican.
How warmly Mr. Jefferson urged Mr. Gerry to accept the mission is worthy of remembrance, in view of its result. “If,” wrote Jefferson, “we engage in a war during our present passions, and our present weakness in some quarters, our Union runs the greatest risk of not coming out of that war in the shape in which it enters it. My reliance for our preservation is in your acceptance of this mission. I know the tender circumstances which will oppose themselves to it. But its duration will be short, and its reward long. You have it in your power, by accepting and determining the character of the mission, to secure the present peace and eternal union of your country. If you decline, on motives of private pain, a substitute may be named who has enlisted his passions in the present contest, and, by the preponderance of his vote in the mission, may entail on us calamities, your share in which, and your feelings, will outweigh whatever pain a temporary absence from your family could give you.”
After the departure of the envoys, in August, there was a lull in the storm of politics, and several months of expectation passed, increasing as time went on, until the mere delay created alarm. The summer passed, the autumn glided by, winter began, Congress convened, the winter ended, and still the dreadful question of peace or war remained unanswered. What of cur envoys ? How has our sublime embassy been received? It was not until it had been gone seven months that any authoritative answer could be given to such inquiries, even by the President. And, then, what an answer ! Let us accompany these gentlemen on their mission.
It was on the 4th of October, 1797, that the three envoys found themselves in Paris —two having come fresh from the United States, and General Pinckney from Holland. On that very first morning they had an experience which was a fit prelude to what was to come. The musicians of the Directory, in accordance with ancient custom (“everybody does it, my dear sir ”), called upon them for a present, and got from each, as Mr. Gerry reports, “ fifteen or twenty guineas.” Next, a deputation of fishwomen, also in accordance with ancient custom, presented themselves for the same purpose. “ When the ladies, wrote Mr. Gerry, “ get sight of a minister, as they did of my colleagues, they smother him with kisses.”But Mr. Gerry escaped this part of the penalty by sending one of the secretaries of the mission, Major Rutledge, to “ negotiate for me.” Gerry paid the guineas, and Rutledge, it is to be presumed, drew the kisses.
The next morning business began. The envoys sent a messenger to notify verbally M. de Talleyrand, Minister of Foreign Affairs, of their arrival in Paris, and to ask him to name a time when he would be at leisure to receive one of their secretaries with a formal and written notification. Answer : The next day at two o’clock. Major Rutledge, punctual to the time, delivered the usual letter, announcing the object of the embassy, and requesting the minister to appoint an hour for them to present their letters of credence. To the cordial and stately letter of the three envoys, Talleyrand gave a verbal reply: “The day after to-morrow at one o’clock.” They waited upon him at the hour appointed. He was not at home ! His chief secretary informed them that he had been compelled to meet the Directory, but would be glad to see them at three o’clock. They called again at three o’clock. He was “ engaged with the Portuguese minister,” and the envoys waited till he was disengaged, about ten minutes. They were then introduced, and presented their letters, which the minister read and kept. He then informed them that the Directory had required him to draw up a report upon the relations of France with the United States, which he was then engaged upon, and would complete in a few days ; when he would let them know “ what steps were to follow.” They asked him if, in the mean time, the usual cards of hospitality would be necessary. Yes, and they should be sent to them. He rang his bell, told his secretary to make them out. The envoys then withdrew, and, on the day following, the cards were brought to them.
Ten days passed. No letter from M. de Talleyrand.
But, on the morning of October 18, the Strikers began their attempts upon the envoys. A certain “ Mr. W.” called upon General Pinckney and informed him that “a Mr. X was a person of considerable credit and reputation, and that the envoys might place great reliance upon him ” ; and, in the evening of the same day, who should happen to drop in upon the envoys but the same Mr. X ? After sitting awhile, this Unknown Quantity whispered to General Pinckney that he was the bearer of a message to him from M. de Talleyrand. The General immediately showed the message-bearer into the next room, and lent an attentive ear to his communication, which was to this effect: M. de Talleyrand, who had a great regard for the American people, was very desirous to promote a reconciliation between them and France, and was ready, in confidence, strict confidence, to suggest a plan which he thought would answer the purpose. “ I shall be glad to hear it,” said the envoy. Mr. X resumed : The Directory was exceedingly irritated at some passages of the President’s speech. First, those passages must be “ softened.” That was essential even to the mere reception of the envoys by the Directory. Then, the United States must lend some money to France. But, besides this, " a sum of money was required for the pockets of the Directory and Ministers. ‘ What passages of the President’s speech have given offence ? ’ asked General Pinckney. Mr. X did not know. 'What amount of loan is expected ? ’ Mr. X could not tell. ‘ How much for the pockets of the Directory ?’ ” On this point, and on this only, the Striker possessed exact information: “ Twelve hundred thousand francs ” ; or, say, a matter of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, gold !
In the secret recesses of his soul, it is to be presumed, General Pinckney whistled. But, being on duty, he only said, that he could not so much as take these propositions into consideration, until he had consulted his colleagues. He consulted his colleagues. Their answer was : Let Mr. X meet us all face to face, and, to avoid mistakes, let him reduce his propositions to writing. Mr. X consenting, he came the next evening, and submitted in writing the same “ suggestions,” He was careful to explain, on this occasion, that his communication did not come directly from M. de Talleyrand ; O no ; but from “ a gentleman in whom M. de Talleyrand had great confidence.” Other interviews followed ; and, at length, the envoys had the pleasure of meeting that very gentleman in whom M. de Talleyrand had so much confidence. He did but confirm what Mr. X had said. “ You can have your treaty, gentlemen,” said he, “ but I will not disguise from you, that, satisfaction being made (softening the President’s speech), the essential part of the treaty remains to be adjusted ; MONEY IS NECESSARY ; MUCH MONEY.”'
For a month or more this Head Striker kept coming and going, making various propositions, and pretending to bring from Talleyrand various suggestions ; but always the burden of his song was: The douceur; the loan ; money; much money! The envoys, having once for all declined to entertain any proposition of that nature, fought shy of the subject, and turned a deaf ear to hints. Take the following as a sample of these lofty conversations : —
HEAD STRIKER. Gentlemen, you do not speak to the point. The point is money ! It is expected you will offer money.
ENVOYS. We have spoken to that point very explicitly; we have given an answer.
HEAD STRIKER. NO: you have not. What is your answer ?
ENVOYS. It is No, NO; not a sixpence !
HEAD STRIKER, Think of the dangers which threaten your country. Would it not be prudent, even though you may not make a loan to the nation, to interest an influential friend in your favor ? Consider the character of the Directory ; they care nothing for the justice of the case ; they can only be reached by a judicious application of money.
ENVOYS. We have no proof of this, even if we were disposed to give the money.
HEAD STRIKER. When you employ a lawyer, you give him a fee without knowing whether the cause can be gained or lost. It is necessary to have a lawyer, and you pay for his services whether those services are successful or not. So, in the present state of things, the money must be advanced for the good offices the individuals are to render, whatever may be the effect of those offices.
ENVOYS. There is no parallel in the cases ; for the lawyer cannot command success. But the Directory has but to order that no more vessels should be seized, and to release those now held, and there could be no opposition to the order.
HEAD STRIKER. All the members of the Directory are not disposed to receive your money. Merlin, for example, is paid from another quarter, and would touch no part of your douceur.
ENVOYS. We have understood that Merlin is paid by the privateers.
HEAD STRIKER (nodding assent). You pay money to obtain peace with the Indians and with the Algerines; and it is doing no more to pay France for peace. Does not your government know that nothing is to be obtained here without money ?
ENVOYS. Our government has not even suspected such a state of things.
HEAD STRIKER (with an appearance of surprise). There is not an American in Paris who cannot give you that information.
The gentleman, with what the envoys in their despatch styled “ vast perseverance,” continued to urge this view upon them, returning to “ the point ” again and again ; they ever adhering to their original reply, “ Not a sixpence.” It was General Pinckney who afterwards converted that homely Not a Sixpence into an electric and immortal phrase, “ Millions for Defence, but not a Cent for Tribute.” At the end of thirty days, the envoys seemed no nearer recognition than on the day when the fishwomen had smothered them with kisses.
For six months the envoys vainly endeavored to bring the Directory to reason. From first to last, the cry was, Money, money, money ! “ We are en-
gaged in a death-grapple with our only foe ; your foe ; liberty’s foe ; mankind’s foe ; we lent you money when you were in a similar situation ; lend us some in our struggle.” Such was the substance of the later messages from the Directory. And above the uproar of events, Thomas Paine’s voice made itself heard, expressing exultation at the proposed descent upon England, and offering material aid toward it. Not much, it is true ; but enough to create a “ scene ” in the Council of Five Hundred, and stimulate the loan. The chairman of that excitable body read aloud Paine’s letter on the 31st of January, 1798 ; in which he said that, although in his present circumstances he could not subscribe to the invasion loan, yet his economy enabled him to make a small donation. “ I send one hundred livres, and, with it, all the wishes of my heart for the success of the descent, and a voluntary offer of any service I can render to promote it. There will be no lasting peace for France, nor for the world, until the tyranny and corruption of the English government be abolished, and England, like Italy, becomes a sister republic.” This letter was received with acclamations, and unanimously ordered to be printed.
But the American envoys refused to take the hint. “ No,” they replied, in substance, “a loan to France will embroil us with England.” “ Well, then,” rejoined Talleyrand, “ make us a loan payable after the war.” On this last proposition the envoys differed in opinion ; Marshall and Pinckney rejecting it as not fit to be entertained, Gerry willing to “ open negotiations on the basis ” of such a loan. The difference proved irreconcilable ; and, after numberless attempts to arrange the difficulty, Talleyrand notified the envoys that the two gentlemen who refused to consider the proposition might expect to receive their passports, but Mr. Gerry was desired to remain. Gerry replied, that he had no authority to conclude anything apart from his colleagues ; he could only, in their absence, confer with the French minister unofficially, and communicate with his own government as a private citizen. Messrs. Marshall and Pinckney departed. Mr. Gerry, eager as he was to rejoin his family, and foreseeing the ruin to his affairs from his prolonged absence, which actually occurred, was induced to stay. Talleyrand officially informed him, “by order of the Directory,” that his departure from France would be instantly followed by a declaration of war ; which, if he remained, would be withheld until he could hear from his government.
And so this weighty embassy, this grand and magnanimous endeavor to restore the ancient friendship between two estranged nations, seemed to end pitifully in an intrigue to get a little money. French cruisers had despoiled American commerce of many millions of dollars, and a demand was now made of millions more, before the claim for redress would be listened to ! Half a dozen corrupt men, whirled aloft in the storm of the Revolution, committed this outrage ; but to the people of the United States, remote from Europe, unversed in its tortuous and childish politics, what could it seem but the act of France? For a short time France had few friends in the United States, and the extremists of the Federalist party, led by Hamilton, had everything their own way.
Judge of the effect of this intelligence upon the public mind by events : Gerry recalled ; Marshall received home like a conqueror ; meetings everywhere; addresses “ poured into” the President’s office from every town, “ offering life and fortune ”; a navy department created ; a navy voted ; guns ordered ; small arms purchased to a vast amount ; an army of ten thousand regulars and any number of militia authorized, in case war was declared or the country invaded; Washington induced to accept the command as lieutenant-general ; three major-generals and nine brigadiers commissioned ; Hamilton nominally second in command, but, practically, cominander-in-chief; the fortification of harbors begun ; merchant vessels authorized to arm and to resist French men-of-war: naval commanders ordered to seize and bring in any French vessel which had molested, or was suspected of being about to molest, American ships ; the President authorized to suspend commercial intercourse between France and the United States. In a word, the power and resources of the country were placed at the disposal of the President, to be by him employed in waging war against France, at his discretion. Hamilton saw the dream of his life about to be realized, — a war, in which he should win the only distinction he valued,— military glory,—and employ, at least, the prestige of a victorious sword on behalf of what he was accustomed to style “ social order.” All this year, 1798, he was in earnest, confidential correspondence with Miranda, the South American patriot, who was in England striving to unite William Pitt and Alexander Hamilton, or, in other words, the government of England and the United States, in an expedition to invade and wrest from Spain her American colonies.
This was to Hamilton a captivating scheme, as it was a few years later to Aaron Burr. But Hamilton, ardently as he cherished it, expressly stipulated that he could have nothing to do with it, “ unless patronized by the government of this country.” The country, he wrote in August, 1798, was not quite ready for the undertaking; “ but we ripen fast.” The plan, he thought, should be this : “ A fleet of Great Britain, an army of the United States, a government for the liberated territory agreeable to both the co-operators.” Mr. Pitt, it seems, was decided for the scheme. Miranda replied to Hamilton’s August letter in October. “Your wishes are in some sort fulfilled,” wrote the South-American ; “since they have agreed here that no English troops are to be employed on shore, seeing that the auxiliary land forces should be American only, while the naval force shall be purely English. All difficulties have vanished, and we only await the fiat of your illustrious President to set out like a flash.” To this point Hamilton had brought the mad scheme without the illustrious President knowing anything of it.
But even this was not the wildest nor the worst of Hamilton’s misuse of the transient power which circumstances gave him in 1798. What shall be said of his attempt to fasten upon the United States the stupid and shameful repressive system of George III. ? What of the Alien Laws, inspired by him, approved by him, passed by his adherents ? The mere rumor of the intention to pass such laws sent shiploads of French and Irish exiles hurrying home and prevented worthy men from seeking needful refuge here. Kosciusko and Volney departed; Priestley was not deemed safe ; noble Gallatin was menaced. By these Alien Laws, the wonder and opprobrium of American politics, servile copies of Pitt’s servile originals, the President could order away “ all such aliens as he should judge dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States ” ; and the alien who disobeyed the order was liable to three years’ imprisonment. Other clauses and amendments placed the entire foreign population of the United States, and all who might in future seek their shores, under strictest surveillance ; and, in case of war with France, every Frenchman not naturalized was to leave the country, or be forcibly put out of it.
But even this was not so monstrous as the Sedition Law, also borrowed from recent British legislation. Five years’ imprisonment and five thousand dollars’ fine for conspiring to oppose any measure passed by Congress, or for attempting or advising a riot or insurrection, whether “ the advice or attempt should have the proposed effect or not.” Imprisonment for two years and a fine of two thousand dollars for writing, speaking, or publishing “any false, scandalous, and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either house of the said Congress, or the said President, or to bring them, or either of them, into contempt or disrepute ; or to excite against them or either or any of them the hatred of the good people of the United States, or to stir up sedition within the United States, or to excite any unlawful combinations therein, for opposing or resisting any law of the United States.” Is it not incredible ? But I have open before me, at this moment, a ponderous law-book of seven hundred and twenty-one large pages, two thirds filled with “ State Trials ” under the Alien and Sedition Laws.
To these base imitations the Federalists added an originality that surpassed in refined absurdity anything devised by Pitt or executed by Castlereagh. A very worthy, benevolent physician, Dr. George Logan of Philadelphia, appalled at the prospect of two friendly nations being thus cruelly misled into a bloody war, scraped together a little money with much difficulty, and went to France to try and prevent, by purely moral means, by mere remonstrance and persuasion, a calamity so dire and so unnecessary. He discovered, by conversations with Talleyrand and others, and so reported, that there was nothing the French government so little desired as war with the United States. To parry this blow, the Hamiltonians passed what was called, in party parlance, the Logan Law : five thousand dollars’ fine and three years’ imprisonment to any future Logan, or any person who “should carry on any verbal or written correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government, or any officer or agent thereof, with an intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government, or any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States.” Hamilton was not going to be balked of his war and his Miranda project by any sentimental Quaker ; least of all, one whom Jefferson had procured a safe-conduct, and provided with a certificate of citizenship! Dr. Logan won great honor by this worthy and useful attempt ; and in 1810, after an honorable public career in Pennsylvania, he went to England to endeavor, by the same means, to prevent war between the United States and Great Britain.
From his lofty seat in the chair of the Senate Jefferson surveyed the momentary triumph of the reactionists, and prepared to frustrate their intentions. Not for a moment was he deceived concerning the real disposition of France. One of the first letters that he wrote after reading the despatches of the envoys contains these words : “You will perceive that they have been assailed by swindlers ; whether with or without the participation of Talleyrand is not apparent. But that the Directory knew anything of it is neither proved nor probable.” The lapse of seventy-five years has added little to our knowledge of that intrigue. “ Assailed by swindlers,” — that is about all we are sure of at this moment. In reckoning up the wrongs inflicted by France upon his country, he ruled out, therefore, all that mass of curious dialogue — thirty-six pages of cipher — between the envoys and the individuals whom Mr. Adams considerately named X, Y, Z, and who are at once named and explained to modern ears by the word Strikers. Hence, his position and that of his friends, Madison, Gallatin, Monroe, Giles, and the rest of the Republican forlorn hope : “ The peace party will agree to all reasonable measures of internal defence, but oppose all external preparations.” With regard to the Alien and Sedition Laws, he thought they were an experiment to ascertain whether the people would submit to measures distinctly contrary to the Constitution. If the experiment succeeded, the next thing would be a life Presidency; then, an hereditary Presidency ; then, a Senate for life. “Nor,” said he, October, 1798, “can I be confident of their failure, after the dupery of which our countrymen have shown themselves susceptible.”
He soon, however, had new evidence of the truth of the words he had spoken to his Albemarle neighbors on returning from France in 1790: “The will of the majority, the natural law of every society, is the only sure guardian of the rights of man. Perhaps even this may sometimes err ; but its errors are honest, solitary, and short-lived.”
How he toiled and schemed to enlighten the public mind at this crisis, his letters of the time reveal, and the hatred of the enemies of freedom attest. He was the soul of the opposition. By long, able, earnest letters to leading public men in many States, he roused the dormant and restrained the impetuous. He induced good writers on the Republican side, Madison above all, to compose the right articles for the press. Madison, overpowered in Congress, and regarding the Constitution as set aside and no longer any restraint upon an arrogant and exulting majority, had retired to the Legislature of Virginia, as a general falls back to make a new stand in the fastnesses of his native, familiar hills. “ Every man,” wrote Jefferson to him in February, 1799, “must lay his purse and his pen under contribution. As to the former, it is possible I may be obliged to assume something for you. As to the latter, let me pray and beseech you to set apart a certain portion of every post day to write what may be proper for the public. Send it to me while here, and when I go away I will let you know to whom you may send, so that your name shall be sacredly secret. You can render such incalculable services in this way as to lessen the effect of our loss of your presence here.” At the same time, Jefferson, acting on behalf of a club of choice spirits to which he belonged, endeavored to induce Madison to publish the notes taken by him of the debates in the Convention of 1787. The project failed. The work was, indeed, too voluminous, and yet all too brief, for the purpose of recalling the public mind to a sense of constitutional obligation. And what did the Hamiltons of the day care for the intentions of that convention ? Every pen, however, that could be used with effect against the military faction, Jefferson sought out and stimulated ; urging upon his friends the powerlessness of blackguard vituperation, if met by good sense and strong, clear, dignified reasoning.
He restrained as well as impelled. In the midst of the war fury of May, 1798, John Taylor of Caroline thought the time had come for Virginia and North Carolina to begin to think of setting up for themselves. No, said Jefferson ; “ if on a temporary superiority of one party, the other is to resort to a scission of the Union, no federal government can ever exist. If to rid ourselves of the present rule of Massachusetts and Connecticut, we break the Union, will the evil stop there? Suppose the New England States alone cut off, will our nature be changed ? Are we not men still to the south of that, and with all the passions of men ? Immediately we shall see a Pennsylvania and a Virginia party arise in the residuary confederacy, and the public mind will be distracted with the same party spirit. What a game, too, will the one party have in their hands, by eternally threatening the other that unless they do so and so they will join their Northern neighbors ! If we reduce our Union to Virginia and North Carolina, immediately the conflict will be established between the representatives of these two States, and they will end by breaking into their simple units. Seeing, therefore, that an association of men who will not quarrel with one another is a thing which never yet existed, from the greatest confederacy of nations down to a town meeting or a vestry, seeing that we must have somebody to quarrel with, I had rather keep our New England associates for that purpose than to see our bickerings transferred to others.”
No language can overstate the boiling fury of party passion then. Social intercourse between members of the two parties ceased, and old friends crossed the street to avoid saluting one another. Jefferson declined invitations to the usual gatherings of “society,” and spent his leisure hours in the circle that met in the rooms of the Philosophical Society, ever longing for the end of the session and the sweet tranquillity of his home. “ Here,” he writes to his daughter Martha, in February, 1798, “your letters serve like gleams of light, to cheer a dreary scene ; where envy, hatred, malice, revenge, and all the worst passions of men, are marshalled, to make one another as miserable as possible. I turn from this with pleasure, to contrast it with your fireside, where the single evening I passed at it was worth more than ages here.” Again, in May: “ For you to feel all the happiness of your quiet situation, you should know the rancorous passions which tear every breast here, even of the sex which should be a stranger to them. Politics and party hatreds destroy the happiness of every being here. They seem, like salamanders, to consider fire as their element.” And again, in February, 1799 : “ Your letter was, as Ossian says, or would say, like the bright beams of the moon on the desolate heath. Environed here in scenes of constant torment, malice, and obloquy, worn down in a station where no effort to render service can avail anything, I feel not that existence is a blessing, but when something recalls my mind to my family or farm.”
If a man so placid as Jefferson was moved so deeply, we cannot wonder at the frenzy of nervous and excitable spirits. President Adams seemed at times almost beside himself. Many readers remember the remarkable account given by him of scenes in the streets of Philadelphia, on what he calls “my fast day,” May 9, 1798;
“ When Market Street was as full as men could stand by one another, and even before my door ; when some of my domestics, in frenzy, determined to sacrifice their lives in my defence ; when all were ready to make a desperate sally among the multitude, and others were with difficulty and danger dragged back by the others ; when I myself judged it prudent and necessary to order chests of arms from the war office to be brought through by lanes and back doors ; determined to defend my house at the expense of my life, and the lives of the few, very few, domestics and friends within it.” This record was mere midsummer madness. On referring to the Philadelphia newspapers of the time, I read, in Claypoole, of May 11, 1798, that “the Fast was observed with a decency and solemnity never before exhibited on a similar occasion.”
There was, indeed, a slight disturbance. For the warning of students, and, particularly, for the benefit of those who may hereafter investigate THE LAWS GOVERNING THE GENERATION OF FALSEHOOD, I Will copy tWO newspaper accounts of Mr. Adams’s terrible riot. Claypoole, May 11 : “ After the solemnities of the day were ended, towards evening, a number of butcher-boys made their appearance at the State House garden with French cockades in their hats. Some disturbance ensued, but, several of them being taken up and committed to jail, order was restored, and tranquillity reigned through the night.” The following is from another Philadelphia paper, the Merchants’ Daily Advertiser, May 10, 1798 : “ About six o’clock, information was received at the Mayor’s office that a number of persons were marching about the city in a very disorderly manner, with French cockades in their hats. A short time after the Mayor, with the Secretary of State, the Attorney-General, and one of the aldermen, being at the Attorney-General’s office, were informed that thirty or forty persons of the above description were close at hand; they accordingly went out to disperse them. Upon the appearance of the civil officers, the mob took out their cockades and dispersed. However, one fellow, more hardy than the rest, persisted in keeping in his cockade, and swore he would not leave the ground, in consequence of which he was committed to prison. Several of these persons, after they had been dispersed, are said to have assembled again in different parts of the city ; but the spirited exertions of the citizens soon put an end to the business. The cavalry paraded through the city during the night, and a number of young men, who voluntarily offered themselves to the Mayor as guards to the military stores, mint, etc., were accepted and stationed at their posts under proper officers. At the time this paper went to press (three o’clock in the morning), we could not learn that any fresh attempt had been made to disturb the public tranquillity.”
Mr. Adams might have spared himself such an alarm. He was riding then upon the topmost wave of popularity. The only trace of opposition to the war measures which I can discover in the press during that month, except in the Congressional debates, is a toast given at the annual banquet of the Tammany Society of New York : “ May the Old Tories, and all who wish to engage the United States in a war with any nation, realize the felicity they anticipate by being placed in front of the first battle.” This sentiment was honored by an extraordinary number of cheers; even “thirteen.” Nevertheless, Mr. Adams was safe in his house. All men can be driven mad by outrage ; but riot and violence are the natural and familiar resort of Old Tories. It is of the essence of Republicanism to prevail by arguments addressed to the conscience and understanding.
The conduct of the Republican leaders, in this year of supreme trial, was temperate, patriotic, and wise. They saw the Constitution of their country, even its most cherished and sacred provisions, those which made the United States an asylum to the élite of the nations, and those which secured to thought a free expression, — even those they saw trampled under foot. Their resort was to the reason and conscience of their fellow-citizens ; they prepared to repeat the wise and humane tactics of the period preceding the Revolution, — eleven years of remonstrance and entreaty. In October, 1798, two Republicans, George Nicholas of Kentucky, and Wilson C. Nicholas of Virginia, met at Monticello, to consult their chief upon the situation. These brothers, like Madison, had retired from Congress to endeavor to make head in the legislatures of their States against the bold, blind, arrogant men who controlled the government. The result of their deliberations were the “ Kentucky Resolutions,” drafted by Jefferson, and the “ Virginia Resolutions,” drafted by Madison ; by the passage of which the legislatures of those States declared that the Alien and Sedition Laws, being contrary to the plainest letter of the Constitution, were “ altogether void and of no force.” Jefferson’s draft uttered only the simple and obvious truth, when it said that “ these and successive acts of the same nature, unless arrested at the threshold, will necessarily drive these States into revolution and blood ” ; “ for this Commonwealth is determined, as it doubts not its co-States are, to submit to undelegated, and consequently unlimited power, in no man or body of men on earth.” The last of the Kentucky Resolutions provided for a Committee of Conference and Correspondence, who should have it in charge to exchange information and sentiments with the legislatures of other States.
One would have expected Hamilton to pause and reconsider his course upon reading such a weighty and cogent protest as this. He did not. His was the unteachable mind of a Scotch Jacobite. His response to the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798 is published at length in his works, in the form of his annual political programme for 1799, addressed to Jonathan Dayton, long the Speaker of the House, and then about to enter the Senate. Circumstances, he said, aided by the extraordinary exertions of“the friends of government,” had, indeed, gained something for “ the side of men of information and property ” ; but, after all, “ public opinion has not been ameliorated,” and “sentiments dangerous to social happiness have not been diminished.” The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions could be considered, he thought, “ in no other light than as an attempt to change the government ” ; and it was “ stated ” that “ the faction” in Virginia was preparing to follow up hostile words by hostile acts, and was actually gathering arms, stocking arsenals, and levying new taxes. In these circumstances, the “ supporters of government,” while preparing to meet force with force, should adopt “vigorous measures of counteraction,” “surround the Constitution with more ramparts,” and thus “disconcert its enemies.”
He advised the following measures : 1. The division of each State into small judicial districts (Connecticut, for example, into four), with a federal judge in each, appointed by the President, for the trial of offenders against the general government. 2. The appointment by the President in each county of “ conservators or justices of the peace, with only ministerial functions,” and paid by fees only, in order to give efficacy to laws which the local magistrates were indisposed to execute. 3. The keeping up of the army and navy nearly on the scale adopted in view of war with France. 4. A military academy. 5. The establishment of government manufactories of every article needful for the supply of an army. 6. The prompt calling out of the militia by new laws, “ to suppress unlawful combinations and insurrections.” 7. “The subdivision of the great States ought to be a cardinal point in the federal policy ” ; and Congress ought to have, by constitutional amendment, the power to, subdivide them, “on the application of any considerable portion of a State containing not less than a hundred thousand persons.” 8. “ Libels, if levelled against any officer whatsoever of the United States, shall be cognizable in the courts of the United States ” ; “ they ought not to be left to the cold and reluctant protection of State courts.” Finally : “ But what avail
laws which are not executed ? Renegade aliens conduct more than one half of the most incendiary presses in the United States ; and yet, in open contempt and defiance of the laws, they are permitted to continue their destructive labors. Why are they not sent away ? Are laws of this kind passed merely to excite odium and remain a dead letter ? Vigor in the executive is at least as necessary as in the legislative branch ; if the President requires to be stimulated, those who can approach him ought to do it.”
Here we have a complete apparatus of tyranny, such as a Jeffreys might have sketched for a Stuart. It justifies Jefferson’s severest judgment concerning the spirit and tendency of this limited and unwise man ; and it calls to mind that sentence hurled at Demosthenes by his rival in the presence of the people of Athens : “ He who acts wickedly in private life cannot prove excellent in his public conduct.” I do not know enough of the laws of our being to explain the truth, but a truth it is, that the paramour of a Reynolds was never yet capable of founding a safe system for the guidance of a nation. Immoral men may be gifted and amiable ; but they are never wise. And now it fell to the lot of honest John Adams, by doing the noblest action of his life, to reduce Alexander Hamilton to something like his natural proportions, while dispelling his silly dream of leading an American army to conquest in South America, and picking up a French island or two on the way. We all know Mr. Adams’s boisterous foibles. But if all the other actions of his life had been unwise, this one act, now to be related, would entitle him to a high place among the worthies of America.
Upon the return of Elbridge Gerry from France, October 1, 1798, be found himself, in the circles naturally frequented by a person of his character and services, the most odious of men. At Cambridge, even his family had been subjected to outrage in his absence. Anonymous letters reached his young wife by “ almost every post,” attributing his prolonged stay in France to the cause, of all others, the most distressing to an honorable woman; and “on several occasions,” as his biographer adds, “ the morning sun shone upon a model of a guillotine, erected in the field before her window, smeared with blood, and having the effigy of a headless man.” It was known that his house contained only women and children ; but savage yells, and bonfires suddenly blazing under their windows disturbed and terrified them at night. After leaving his despatches with the Cabinet at Philadelphia, and visiting his home, Mr. Gerry drove out to Quincy, where, most fortunately, the President was passing his vacation, — far from a Cabinet devoted to Hamilton and determined upon war. In long conferences, renewed from day to day, Mr. Gerry proved to the perfect satisfaction of Mr. Adams that the government and people of France desired peace with the United States, and would respond cordially to a reopening of diplomatic relations. He showed to the President letters from Talleyrand, offering him, in the name of the Directory, a public reception ; abandoning the demand for a loan and an apology for the President’s speech ; positively engaging to receive another American minister with all due respect ; and declaring a willingness to enter into just commercial arrangements on the basis of conceding to the United States the neutrality they claimed. Mr. Gerry had something better to show the President than promises. At Havre, as he was about to sail, he had received a copy of an order of the Directory to the French officer in command of the West India fleet, to restrain the lawless spoliation of American commerce by French privateers. He told the President, too, that the French, dazzled and inflated beyond measure by Bonaparte’s victories, had treated other nations with far greater insolence than they had the Uuited States. The government had sent off from Paris thirteen foreign ambassadors, and even gone to the length of imprisoning one, and confining another to his house under guard.
Mr. Adams, instructed and convinced by Mr. Gerry, had the great and rare courage to act upon his conviction. Against the opinion of his cabinet, contrary to the cry and expectation of his party, to the infinite disgust and cutting disappointment of Hamilton, as well as to his own speedy downfall and immortal glory, he reopened diplomatic relations with France, which led to a peace that has lasted seventy-three years. It was his own act, and Elbridge Gerry alone shares with him the glory of it. Mr. Adams, in one of his public letters of a later day, tells the story of Mr. Gerry’s appointment and success in a few lines : “ I called the heads of departments together and proposed Mr. Gerry. All the five voices were unanimously against him. Such inveterate prejudice shocked me. I said nothing, but was determined not to be the slave of it. I knew the man infinitely better than all of them. He was nominated and approved, and finally saved the peace of the nation ; for he alone discovered and furnished the evidence that X, Y, and Z were employed by
Talleyrand; and he alone brought home the direct, formal, and official assurances upon which the subsequent commission proceeded, and peace was made.” February 17, 1799, the President, to the equal astonishment of Federalists and Republicans, nominated William Vans Murray plenipotentiary to the French Republic.
Hamilton had a prompt and vast revenge ; but it inured to the good of the country. The strange manner in which both the folly and the crimes of public men in the United States have issued in lasting public benefit, is an argument for Providence that sometimes staggers the stanchest unbeliever. Hamilton destroyed the Federalists, and Calhoun killed slavery ! When the time came for choosing candidates for the Presidency, Hamilton was resolved to push John Adams from his seat, though in doing so he prostrated his own party. “ For my individual part,” he wrote to Theodore Sedgwick, “ my mind is made up. I will never more be responsible for Adams, by my direct support, even though the consequence should be the election of Jefferson. If we must have an enemy at the head of the government, let it be one whom we can oppose, and for whom we are not responsible, who will not involve our party in the disgrace of his foolish and bad measures. Under Adams, as under Jefferson, the government will sink.”
A bungling business he made of it; but he had his way. His first thought was to lure General Washington from the retreat he so much loved, needed, and deserved ; but when the letter of Gouverneur Morris proposing this ungrateful scheme reached Mount Vernon, Washington lay cold in death. Then Hamilton brought once more into play that baleful ingenuity of his which had misled him so often. He attempted a manœuvre which every competent corporal knows to be necessarily fatal, — a change of front under the enemy’s hottest fire. First, by secret manipulations of legislatures, and afterwards by an open, printed appeal, signed by his name, he endeavored to bring C. C. Pinckney, the Federalist candidate for the Vice-Presidency, into the Presidency over Mr. Adams. By thus rending his own party in twain, he made the victory easier to the Republicans ; and perhaps it was he who made that victory theirs in 1800, instead of 1804.
Nor can we award him even the credit of submitting to the decision of the people, — which is one of the two vital conditions of a republic’s existence, the other being a pure ballot-box. The election in New York went against him: i. e. the people elected a legislature pledged to choose Republican electors. He instantly wrote to Governor jay, urging him to summon at once the existing legislature (whose time had still seven weeks to run), and get it to pass a law depriving the legislature of the power to elect electors, and devolving it upon the people by districts. This manœuvre would give the beaten Federalists a second chance. It would rob the Republicans of their victory. It would compel them to gird on their armor again, and descend a second time into the arena. It was losing the game, grabbing the stakes, and demanding another chance to win them, with points in favor of the grabber.
To a person unacquainted with Hamilton’s peculiar character, this advice to the Governor seems simply base. But the error, like millions of other errors of our short-sighted race, was not half so much moral as mental. It was ignorance and incapacity rather than turpitude. He said to the Governor, in substance : I own that this measure is not regular, nor delicate, nor, in ordinary circumstances, even decent ; but “scruples of delicacy and propriety ought not to hinder the taking of a legal and constitutional step to prevent an atheist in religion and a fanatic in politics from getting possession of the helm of state.” You don’t know these Republicans, as I do, he continued. The party is “ a composition, indeed, of very incongruous materials, but all tending to mischief; some of them to the overthrow of the government by stripping it of its due energies ; others of them to a revolution, after the manner of Bonaparte. I speak from indubitable facts, not from conjectures and inferences.” Now, my dear Sir, these people call to their aid “all the resources which vice can give ” ; can we then hope to succeed, we virtuous, if we confine ourselves “ within all the ordinary forms of delicacy and decorum”? No, indeed. But, of course, we must “ frankly avow ” our object. You must tell the legislature that our purpose is to reverse the result of the late election, in order to prevent the general government from falling into hostile hands, and to save the “great cause of social order.” To us, this long epistle to Mr. Jay reads more like mania than wickedness. This man had lived in New York twenty years without so much as learning the impossibility of its people being made to submit to an avowed outrage so gross ! Governor Jay was at no loss to characterize the proposal aright. Instead of plunging the State into civil war by adopting the measure, he folded Hamilton’s letter and put it away among his most private papers, bearing this indorsement: “ Proposing a measure for party purposes which I think it would not become me to adopt.”
Mr. Jefferson’s attitude during this intensest of all known political struggles is an interesting study. The simplicity of his political system was such, that he could give a complete statement of it in a few lines ; and it was so sound, that the general government, from 1789 to 1873, has worked well so far as it has conformed to it, and worked ill as often as it has departed from it. Jefferson was so RIGHT that every honest, patriotic man who has since gone to Washington after having learned his rudiments from Jefferson, and has had strength enough to vote up to the height of his convictions, has made a respectable public career, no matter how ordinary his endowments; while every public man who has not accepted this simple clew to the labyrinth of public business, has made a career which time and events will condemn, though he may have had the talents of a Webster or a Clay.
This is the Jeffersonian system, in brief: “Let the general government be reduced to foreign concerns only, and let our affairs be disentangled from those of all other nations, except as to commerce, which the merchants will manage the better the more they are left free to manage for themselves, and our general government may be reduced to a very simple organization, and a very unexpensive one ; a few plain duties to be performed by a few servants.”
This was the basis. He explained himself more in detail to Elbridge Gerry, in January, 1799. He said he was in favor of fulfilling the Constitution in the sense in which it was originally interpreted by the men who drew it, and as it was accepted by the States upon their interpretation. He objected to everything which tended to monarchy, or which even gave the government a monarchical air and tone. He claimed for the States every power not expressly yielded by the Constitution to the general government. He demanded that the three great departments of the government, Congress, the Executive, and the Judiciary, should each keep to its sphere, neither of them encroaching upon any of the others. He desired a government rigorously frugal and simple, and the application of all possible savings to the discharge of the public debt. In peace, no standing army ; and only just navy enough to protect our coasts and harbors from ravage and depredation. Free trade with all nations; political connection with none ; little or no diplomatic establishment. Freedom of religion; perfect equality of sects before the law ; freedom of the press ; free criticism of government by everybody, whether just or unjust. Finally, in the great struggle which began with the dawn of human reason and will end only when reason is supreme in human affairs, namely, the struggle between Science and Superstition, he was on the side of Science. Personally, he was in favor of “ encouraging the progress of science in all its branches ” ; and he was opposed to “overawing the human mind by stories of raw-head and bloody bones,” which made it distrustful of itself, and disposed to follow blindly the lead of others. The first object of his heart, he said, was his own country,— not France, not England,— and the one no more than the other, except as one might be more or less friendly to us than the other. The depredations of France upon our commerce were indeed “atrocious,” but he believed that a mission sincerely disposed to peace would obtain retribution and honorable settlement. These were his principles, but he indulged no antipathy to those who differed from him. “ I know too well,” said he, “the texture of the human mind and the slipperiness of the human reason, to consider differences of opinion otherwise than differences of form and feature. Integrity of views, more than their soundness, is the basis of esteem.”
Such is a brief outline of his opinions, political and other, in view of the fact well known, that he would again be the candidate of his party for the Presidency in 1800.
The tranquil dignity of the candidate’s demeanor was pleasing to witness. During 1798 and 1799 he devoted a great part of his time and strength to enlightening the public mind ; employing for this purpose all that his party possessed of bright intelligence and practised ability. But when, in 1800, the contest lost the character of a conflict of ideas, and assumed that of a competition of persons, he ceased to write letters, withdrew to Monticello, and spent an unusually laborious summer in improving his nail factory, burning bricks for his house, and superintending his farms; rarely going farther from home than the next village ; never too busy to keep up his meteorological records and look after the interests of the Philosophical Society.
Indeed, if we may judge from his letters, the more furiously the storm of politics raged about him, the more attentive he was to philosophy. It was in the very heat of the war frenzy of 1798 that he wrote his well-known letter to Mr. Nolan, asking information concerning those “ large herds of horses in a wild state,” which, he had been recently informed, were roaming “in the country west of the Mississippi.” He entreated Mr. Nolan to be very particular and exact in detailing “the manners, habits, and laws of the horse’s existence ” in a state of nature. It was, also, during the very crisis of the French imbroglio, in February 1799, that he penned his curious letter about the steam-engine ; in which he expressed a timid hope, that, perhaps, the steam-engine, as now improved by Watt, might be available for pumping water to the tops of houses for family use. Every family, he said, has a kitchen fire ; small, indeed, but sufficient for the purpose. To these years seems to belong also his invention of the revolving chair, which the newspapers of that day used to style “ Mr. Jefferson’s whirligig chair,” now a familiar object in all countries and most counting-rooms. The party papers of the time had their little joke even upon this innocent device ; insisting that Mr. Jefferson invented it to facilitate his looking all ways at once.