« PreviousContinue »
DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS WITH FRANCE AND THE PURCHASE
THE history of the early diplomatic relations between France and the United States reads like a romance. Mysterious men and anonymous women passed in and out of the negotiations; mercantile houses were established under fictitious names to conceal purchases of arms and loans of money for the American patriots; official representatives were known by the letters "X," "Y," "Z," and other cabalistic signs, and intrigue followed intrigue at the corrupt and frivolous court, as in the novels of Dumas or Victor Hugo. But above all this conspiracy and mystery rises the serene and benevolent character of Benjamin Franklin, whose honesty of purpose could not be diverted, and whose profound patriotism could not be contaminated by any aid or obstacle with which they were associated. Following him as minister to France came Thomas Jefferson, a man of even simpler tastes, for whom the frivolities of court life had no fascinations, but whose affection and gratitude toward France, first inspired by her generous sympathy for the struggling colonies and the young republic, and strengthened by a long residence in Paris, could not be impaired by the fickleness of the people or the cruelties that stained their political history.
These two men, pre-eminent and peculiar, full of zeal and
patriotism, framed the fraternal relations that existed between France and the United States in the days of the Revolution and the first years of the republic, and, when Jefferson was recalled from Paris to take a place in the cabinet of Washington, there were no two nations in the universe whose friendship was more cordial or whose sympathy was more sincere. Relying upon the aid she had furnished the colonies in their struggle for independence, France made, during the last ten years of the eighteenth century, demands of the most extravagant character upon the young republic for support against the allied nations of Europe. Had these requirements been complied with, the United States, even though sustained as they were by public sentiment this side of the Atlantic, would have been embroiled in a ruinous war with all the rest of Europe.
The complications arising from America's refusal to comply with the demands of France were made more serious by the imprudent conduct of M. Genet, who was commissioned by the French Directory as minister to the United States. He arrived at Charleston in April, 1793, and was received with great enthusiasm as the representative of a people who had given us aid and encouragement during the Revolution, and the envoy of a republic whose establishment the success of popular government in America had made possible. But the French minister, in defiance of Washington's proclamation of neutrality, made every effort to incite Americans to take the side of France, issuing military commissions to officers and men and granting licenses to privateers. His conduct was so outrageous that our government was compelled to ask for his recall.
The United States were powerless to aid France, and still more impotent to defend themselves against the combined forces of Europe, a resistance which would have been necessary had the terms of the treaty been fulfilled. There was no
military force, no navy, no money, no credit, and, had a loan been attempted, the only source of financial assistance was Holland, already actively engaged in hostilities with France. The country was just beginning to recover from the effects of the Revolution, and the revenues of the government, even with the greatest economy, were barely sufficient to sustain its ordinary expenses. The deliberations of the administration on this subject were long and earnest, and, although public sentiment was strongly in favor of active co-operation with France, President Washington issued a proclamation announcing the policy of the United States to be that of strict neutrality and warning American citizens against any direct or indirect participation in the European war.
The demand for the recall of M. Genet, the French minister, was complied with but it was coupled with a condition that Gouverneur Morris, the American minister in Paris, should be replaced on the ground that by his protection of the adherents of the late king he had made himself odious to the republic. Washington consented to recall Morris, and appointed as his successor, James Monroe, although the latter was an active opponent of the administration and sympathized with France. Monroe received carefully drawn instructions setting forth at length the policy of the government toward the French republic, which was defined to be that of sincere friendship, although it was deemed inexpedient to comply with its de
The negotiation by Mr. Jay of a treaty of amity and commerce with England at this time created great indignation in France, and our minister was informed that the government of that republic intended to break off all relations with the United States, but by his skillful diplomacy and well-known friendship for the French people Mr. Monroe was able to avert such a crisis. When, a little later, Mr. Monroe was recalled, the
French republic refused to receive his successor, Mr. Pinckney, on the ground that our government had insulted France by making a friendly treaty with her enemy, England.
In 1797, when John Adams became President, he appointed a commission, consisting of three gentlemen of the greatest distinction, John Marshall, Elbridge Gerry, and C. C. Pinckney, to make an effort to effect a reconciliation with France, and re-establish commercial intercourse with that country. These emissaries, although not received officially by the French Directory, engaged for six months in a series of remarkable negotiations with Talleyrand, the minister of foreign affairs. The government of the Directory was notoriously corrupt. The Americans were treated as suppliants for favor and were asked not only to promise a large loan to France but to make a generous personal gift to the directors. These proposals were made through mysterious persons designated in the French correspondence as "X," "Y," and "Z,” and “ a lady." 'The commissioners of the United States refused the demands of Talleyrand, and finally, after exhausting every honorable means for an amicable arrangement, withdrew to the Netherlands.
In the United States the conduct of M. Adet, who had succeeded Genet as minister, was quite as extraordinary as the latter's had been. He indulged in frequent tirades against the government and Washington for their ingratitude to France. Like his predecessor he endeavored in various ways to stir up a rebellion among the French sympathizers in the United States, and used every possible means to defeat the ratification of the treaty Mr. Jay had made with Great Britain, but Washington treated him with the greatest forbearance. He returned to France in 1796, and there was no French minister in the United States until after the treaty of 1800.
The conduct of the French minister, and the discourteous
treatment which the commissioners from the United States received in Paris, together with the frequent attacks made by French privateers upon American shipping, awakened a resentment in this country which was quite as vigorous and determined as the sympathy for that republic had formerly been. Congress passed several laws in retaliation; all treaties with France were declared abrogated; and active preparations for war were begun. Washington was appointed Lieutenant General and Commander in Chief of the Armies, and Hamilton second in command. A Navy Department was organized ; money was voted to purchase and equip vessels of war and to construct fortifications in the several harbors along the Atlantic coast; and the enlistment of an army of ten thousand men was ordered. In fact, so serious was the situation that the courts were afterwards called upon to decide whether there was actual war between the two countries in 1799 or not. The effect of the judicial decision was that although several engagements actually took place between armed vessels belonging to the respective countries, hostilities were never formally declared on either side, and that no war existed.
At this time a curious incident occurred, which created great excitement. After the return of the commissioners from France, with tales of their extraordinary experience, a benevolent Quaker of Philadelphia by the name of George Logan, without the authority or the knowledge of the government, but upon his own responsibility, and solely because of his philanthropic desire to prevent a war between the two young republics, proceeded to Paris, and undertook negotiations with Talleyrand with a view to the restoration of cordial relations. The only papers he carried with him were a certificate of citizenship in the United States and an open letter from Mr. Jefferson testifying to his good character; but Mr. Logan succeeded in obtaining repeated interviews with