Page images
PDF
EPUB

of Great Britain the obligations they were under by the late treaty to evacuate their posts on the south side of the lakes of Canaria, they retorted, that some of the states had in violation of the same treaty passed laws interposing legal impediments to the recovery of debts due to British subjects. Washington's love of justice was not weakened by partiality to his country. In a letter to a member of congress he observed, “ It was impolitic and unfortunate, if not unjust, in those states to pass laws which by fair construction might be considered as infractions of the treaty of peace. It is fair policy at all times to place one's adver

in the wrong. Had we observed good faith, and the western posts had been withheld from us by Great Britain, we might have appealed to God and man for justice.

" What a misfortune it is, that the British should have so well-grounded a pretext for their palpable infractions; and what a disgraceful part, out of the choice of difficulties before us, are we to act."

In the first year of Washington's presidency he took informal measures to sound the British cabinet, and to ascertain its views respecting the United States: to Mr. Gouverneur Morris, who had been carried by private business to Europe, this negotiation was entrusted. He con

ducted

sary in the

[ocr errors]

ducted it with ability, but found no disposition in the court of Great Britain to accede to the wishes of the United States. In about two years more, when the stability and

energy

of the government, as administered by Washington, became a matter of public notoriety, the British, of their own accord, sent Mr. Hammond as their first minister to the United States. This advance induced the president to nominate Mr. Thomas Pinckney as minister plenipotentiary to the court of Great Britain.

About this time war commenced between France and Great Britain. The correct, sound judgment of Washington instantly decided, that a perfect neutrality was the right, the duty, and the interest, of the United States; and of this he gave public notice by a proclamation in April 1793. Subsequent events have proved the wisdom of this measure, though it was then reprobated by many:

The war between the late enemies and friends of the United States revived revolutionary feelings in the breasts of the citizens, ani enlisted the strongest passions of human mature against the one, and in favour of the other. A wish for the success of France was almost universal, and many were willing to hazard the peace of their country, by taking an active part in her favour. The

proclamation proclamation was at variance with the feelings and the passions of a large portion of the citizens. To compelthe observanceof neutrality under these circumstances was no easy maiter. Hitherto, Washington for the most part had the people with him, but in this case a large proportion was apparently on the other side. His resolution was nevertheless unshaken, and at the risk of popularity he persisted in promoting the real good of his fellow citizens, in opposition to their own mistaken wishes and views.

The tide of popular opinion was as strongly against Britain as in favour of France. The former was accused of instigating the Indians to acts of hostility against the United States; of impressing their sailors, of illegally capturing their ships, and of stirring up th.c Algerines against them. The whole of this hostility was referred to their jealousy of the growing importance of the United States. Motions were made in congress for sequestrating British debts, for entering into commercial hostility with Great Britain, and even for interdicting all intercourse with lier, till she pursued other measures with respect to the United States. Every appearance portended immediate 'war between the two countries. The passionate admirers of France wished for it; while others, more attached to British systems dreaded a war with Great Britain, as being likely to throw the United States into the arms of France. In this state of things, when war seemed inevitable, the president composed the troubled scene by nominating John Jay, in April 1794, envoy extraordinary to the court of London. By this measure a truce was obtained, and that finally ended in an adjustment of the points in controversy between the two countries. The exercise of the constitutional right of the president to negotiate, virtually suspended all hostile legislative measures, for these could not with delicacy or propriety be urged while the executive was in the act of treating for an amicable adjustment of differences.

A treaty between Great Britain and the United States was the result of this mission. This was pronounced by Mr. Jay “ to be the best that was attainable, and which he believed it for the interest of the United States to accept." While the treaty was before the senate for consideration, a member, contrary to the rules of that body, furnished an editor of a newspaper with a copy of it. This being published, operated like a spark of fire applied to combustible materials. The

angry

angry passions, which had but recently been smothered, broke out afresh. Some went so far as to pronounce the treaty a surrender of their honour to their late enemy, Great Britain, and a dereliction of their tried friend and ally, France. The more moderate said that too much was given and too little received. Meetings of the people were held in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Charleston, and several other places, in which the treaty was pronounced to be unworthy of acceptance; and petitions were agreed upon, and forwarded to the president, urging him to refuse his signature to the obnoxious instrument.

These agitations furnished matter forserious reflection to the president, but they did not effect his conduct, otherwise than by inducing his reiterated examination of the subject.In a private letter to a friend, after reciting the importance of the crisis, he added, “ There is but one straight course, and that is, to seek truth, and to pursue it steadily.” It is probable that he had early made

up

his mind to ratify the treaty, as better than none, and infinitely better than war; but regretted that it was so generally disliked, and considered by many as made with a design to oppress the French republic. Under the

« PreviousContinue »