Page images
PDF
EPUB

their fears were misplaced, he was disposed "to Chap. I. yield to them in a degree, and not to suffer that 1783 which was intended for the best of purposes, to 1787. produce a bad one."

A general meeting was to be held at Philadelphia in May 1784; and, in the mean time, he had been appointed the temporary president.

To prepare the officers for those fundamental changes in the principles of the society, which he contemplated as a necessary sacrifice to the public apprehensions, his ideas were suggested to his military correspondents; and to give weight to the measures which might be recommended, his utmost influence was exerted to obtain a full assemblage of deputies, which might be at the same time respectable for its numbers, and for its wisdom.

On surrendering those parts of the institution which were deemed objectionable, officers of high respectability entertained different opinions. By some, the public clamour was attributed to a spirit of persecution, which only attached them more closely to the order. Many, it was said, were in quest of a cause of quarrel with their late protectors; and the removal of one ground of accusation against them, would only induce the substitution of some other. The source of the uneasiness which had been manifested was to be found in the temper of the people, not in the matters of which they complained; and if the present cause of irritation was removed, their ill humour would be openly and avowedly directed against the commutation.

Chap, x In the habit of considering subjects of difficulty 1783 in various points of view, and of deciding on 1 787. tnem with coolness and deliberation, general Washington could not permit his affections to influence his judgment. The most exact inquiries were assiduously made into the true state of the public mind, the result of which was a persuasion, that opinions unfriendly to the institution in its actual form were extensively entertained; and that those opinions were founded, not in hostility to the late army, but in real apprehensions for equal liberty.

To remove these apprehensions he deemed a wise and necessary policy; and, at the general meeting in May, the hereditary principle, and the power of adopting honorary members, were relinquished. The result demonstrated the propriety of this alteration. Although a few who always perceive most danger where none exists, and the visionaries then abounding in Europe, continued their prophetic denunciations against the order, America dismissed her fears ; and notwithstanding the refusal of one or two of the state societies to adopt the measures recommended by the general meeting, the members of the cincinnati were received as brethren into the bosom of their country.

While general Washington thus devoted a great part of his time to rural pursuits, to the duties of friendship, and to institutions of public utility, the political state of his country was well calculated to engage the anxious solicitude of every enlightened and virtuous patriot. From peace, from

United
States.

independence, and from governments of her own Chap. I. choice, America had confidently anticipated every 1783 possible blessing. The glorious termination of ]787, their contest with one of the most powerful nations of the earth; the steady and persevering courage with which that contest had been maintained; and the unyielding firmness with which the privations attending it had been supported, had surrounded the infant republics with a great degree of splendor, and had bestowed upon them a character which could be preserved only by a national and dignified system of conduct. A very short The cause*

. n- • 1 1 which led to

time was sufficient to demonstrate, that some-a change of

. . . thc govem

thing not yet possessed was requisite, to realize JJJ"'^"* the public and private prosperity expected to flow from self government. After a short struggle so to administer the existing system as to make it competent to the great objects for which it was instituted, the effort became apparently desperate, and American affairs were impelled rapidly to a crisis, on which depended perhaps the continuance of the United States as a nation.

In tracing the causes which led to this interesting state of things, it will be necessary to carryback our attention to the conclusion of the war. A government authorized to declare war, but relying on independent states for the means of prosecuting it; capable of contracting debts, and of pledging the public faith for tlr:ir payment, but depending on thirteen distinct sovereignties for the preservation of that faith; could only be rescued from ignominy and contempt, by finding those sovereignties administered by men exempt from the passions incident to human nature.

Chap, i. The debts of the union were computed to 1783 amount, on the first of January 1783, to some1787. what more than forty millions of dollars. "If," say congress, in an address to the states, urging that the means of payment should be placed in their hands, "other motives than that of justice could be requisite on this occasion, no nation could ever feel stronger; for to whom are the debts to be paid?

"To an Ally, in the first place, who to the exertion of his arms in support of our cause has added the succours of his treasure; who to his important loans has added liberal donations, and whose loans themselves carry the impression of his magnanimity and friendship.

"To individuals in a foreign country, in the next place, who were the first to give so precious a token of their confidence in our justice, and of their friendship for our cause, and who are members of a republic which was second in espousing our rank among nations.

"Another class of creditors is, that illustrious and patriotic band of fellow citizens, whose blood and whose bravery have defended the liberties of their country, who have patiently borne, among other distresses, the privation of their stipends, whilst the distresses of their country disabled it from bestowing them; and who, even now, ask for no more than such a portion of their dues, as will enable them to retire from the field of victory and glory, into the bosom of peace and private citizenship, and for such effectual security for the residue of their claims, as their country is now unquestionably able to provide.

*' The remaining class of creditors is composed Chap. I. partly of such of our fellow citizens as originally )783 lent to the public the use of their funds, or have 17a7. since manifested most confidence in their country, by receiving transfers from the lenders; and partly of those whose property has been either advanced or assumed for the public service. To discriminate the merits of these several descriptions of creditors, would be a task equally unnecessary and invidious. If the voice of humanity plead more loudly in favour of some than of others, the voice of policy, no less than of justice, pleads in favour of all. A wise nation will never permit those who relieve the wants of their country, or who rely most on its faith, its firmness, and its resources, when either of them is distrusted, to suffer by the event."

In a government constituted like that of the United States, it would readily be expected that great contrariety of sentiment would prevail, respecting the principles on which the affairs of the union should be conducted. It has been already stated that the continent was divided into two great political parties, the one of which contemplated America as a nation, and laboured incessantly to invest the federal head with powers competent to the preservation of the union. The other attached itself to the state authorities, viewed all the powers of congress with jealousy; and assented reluctantly to measures which would enable the head to act, in any respect, independently of the members. Men of enlarged and liberal minds who, in the imbecility of a general Vol. v. F

« PreviousContinue »