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NEW DECREE AGAINST AMERICAN COMMERCE. 55
me at length into a publication of all, even the secret CHAPTER transactions of the administration while I was of it, and embroil me personally with every member of the execu- 1797. tive, with the judiciary, and others still;" nor could it be avowed without bringing on, such is Jefferson's express statement," a personal difference between General Washington and myself, which nothing before the publication of this letter had ever done. It would embroil me, also, with all those with whom his character is still popular, that is to say, nine-tenths of the people of the United States." Had it been only the Cincinnati who were aimed at a subterfuge not then thought of-it could hardly have been necessary for Jefferson to have labored so hard as he did to convince Madison that it could not justly be inferred from his silence that he was afraid to avow the general sentiments of the letter.
The Directory had signified their disgust at the failure of Jefferson to be elected president by the issue, so soon as that information had been received, of a decree March 2. against American commerce, purporting to define the authority granted to the French cruisers by the decree of July 2, 1796. By this decree which reached the May 10 United States just before the meeting of Congress, the treaty with America was declared to be so far modified as to leave American vessels and their cargoes liable to capture for any cause recognized as lawful ground of capture by the British treaty. By an additional and most extraordinary provision, any Americans found serving on board hostile armed vessels were to be treated as pirates, even although they might plead compulsion in excuse. In other words, American citizens impressed by the British were made liable to be hanged by the French. Violent as the Democratic papers were, and justly enough too, against British impressment, they
CHAPTER had not a word to say against this most extraordinary French offset to that practice. This decree, in its prac tical application, proved much more fatal to American commerce than might have been supposed from its terms, it being construed by the French tribunals into a justification of the capture of American vessels for not having a role d'equipage. "It was intended" so, some time after its issue, wrote Barlow to his brother-in-law Baldwin, "to be little short of a declaration of war." "The gov ernment here," such was the statement of this recreant American, "was determined to fleece you to a sufficient degree, to bring you to your feeling in the only nerve in which your sensibility lay, which was your pecuniary interest."
The idea, indeed, of a war with France was far from being agreeable to anybody. Though, among the more reflecting part of the community, enthusiasm in her favor had greatly subsided, fear and dread had replaced it. France at this time was terrible alike to her friends and her enemies. The so-called patriotic or Republican party in Holland, having called in the French to help in overturning the old government, had become their submissive tools, compelled to register their edicts, and to find them money whenever called upon. Spain, since her alliance with France, was hardly more independent. Both Spain and Holland, as appeared from the papers laid before Congress along with Pinckney's despatches, taking their cue from France, had already begun to com plain of the provisions of the British treaty on the subject of contraband and the seizure of enemy's goods in American vessels, as infractions of their rights under their treaties with the United States, of which the provisions on these subjects were similar to those of the treaty with France. In delaying to give up the posts on
VIEWS OF HAMILTON.
the Mississippi, and in postponing the joint survey of CHAPTER the Florida boundary, Spain was believed to act by the instigation of the French Directory, suspected of intending to obtain for themselves a cession of Louisiana and the Floridas, as they already had done of the eastern part of Hispaniola. A French agent had lately been arrested in Kentucky, sent thither, as was believed, by Adet, to renew the former intrigue for the separation of the Western country from the American Union, and its junction with Louisiana. Implacable towards England, France had required Hamburg to break off all commerce with her; and the same demand had been extended to Bremen and to Denmark. The fate of Genoa, in being compelled to relinquish her neutrality, has already been referred to. Hoche's expedition against Ireland had failed; but Bonaparte was pressing hard upon the last remaining ally of Great Britain, and Austria, it was plain, would soon be forced to a peace. Discouraged by the bad success of her allies, Great Britain herself had for some time been attempting to negotiate. What might be the fate of the United States if, with a violent French faction in their own bosom, a general peace should be concluded in Europe, leaving the American difficulties with France unsettled, and the sister republic at liberty to send thither a fraternizing army under Hoche or Bonaparte?
How moderate were the views of the leading Federalists, is apparent from a letter of Hamilton to Wolcott, March 30 written some six weeks before the meeting of Congress, and very shortly after the arrival of Pinckney's despatches: "It has been a considerable time my wish," so reads this letter, "that a commission extraordinary should be constituted to go to France. I was particularly anxious that the first measure of the new president's administra
CHAPTER tion should have been that; but it has not so happened. X. I still continue to wish earnestly that the same measure 1797. may go into effect, and that the meeting of the Senate
may be accelerated for that purpose. Without opening a new channel of negotiation, it seems to me the door of accommodation is shut, and rupture will follow if not prevented by a general peace. Who, indeed, can be certain that a general pacification of Europe may not leave us alone to receive the law from France? Will it be wise to omit anything to parry, if possible, these great risks? But the Directory have declared that they will not receive a minister till their grievances shall have been redressed. This can hardly mean more than that they will not receive a resident minister. It cannot mean that they will not hear an extraordinary messenger, whe may even be sent to know what will satisfy. But suppose they do. It will still be well to convince the people that the government has done all in its power, and that the Directory are unreasonable. But the enemies of the government call for the measure. To me, this is a very strong reason for pursuing it. It will meet them on their own ground, and disarm them of the plea that something has been omitted. I ought, my good friend, to apprize you, for you may learn it from no other, that a suspicion begins to dawn among the friends of the goyernment that the actual administration (ministers) is not averse from a war with France. How very important to obviate this. As in the case of England, so now, my opinion is to exhaust the expedient of negotiation, and, at the same time, to prepare vigorously for the worst. This is sound policy. Any omission or deficiency either way will be a great error."
Wolcott, whose remonstrances, as we have seen, had contributed to prevent the institution of such a mission
VIEWS OF WOLCOTT.
as Hamilton wished, was hardly ready to yield to these CHAPTER suggestions. He was not satisfied that the government had not already done all that the occasion justified. The 1797. demands of France required, so he thought, a surrender of national independence, not to be yielded except to the most extreme necessity. "The idea," so he wrote in March 31. reply, "of a commission consisting of Mr. Madison, or any one like him, I must own to you, is one which I can never adopt without the utmost reluctance. I have no confidence in Mr. Madison; he has been a frequenter of Adet's political parties. I have just been informed that Adet has suggested the idea of sending this gentleman. We know that the French count upon the support of a party in this country, and so shameless is the faction grown, that positive proof of a devotion to French views is with many no injury to a man's popularity. If the government suffers France to dictate what description of men shall be appointed to foreign courts, our country is undone. From that moment the confidence of all the old-fashioned, honorable, and virtuous men of the interior is irrevocably lost." "I have no objection to sending a man of neutral politics, if he is a man of sincere firmness and integrity. General Pinckney is of this description. If a commission is generally preferred, it is a point, perhaps, not to be contested; but how can the commission be composed? From what was on the point of being done, I presume Mr. Cabot can not be brought forward. If a man of his principles were to be associated with Mr. Madison, either nothing would be done, or something worse than nothing. Mr. Madison would insist upon a submission to France, or would obstruct a settlemen and throw the disgrace of failure upon the friends of gov ernment. The present is a moment of apparent tranquillity, but I conjecture it is a calm which forebodes a