Page images
PDF
EPUB

Chap. v. the great states, than from those of the general 1792. government.

Mr. Jefferson had retired from congress before the depreciation of the currency had produced an entire dependence of the general on the local governments ; after which he filled the highest offices in the state of which he was a citizen. About the close of the war he was re-elected to congress; but, being soon afterwards employed on a diplomatic mission, he remained at the court of Versailles while the people of France were taking the primary steps of that immense revolution which has astonished and agitated two quarters of the world. In common with all his countrymen, he took a strong interest in favour of the reformers; and it is not unreasonable to suppose, that while residing at that court, and associating with those who meditated some of the great events which have since taken place, his mind might be warmed with the abuses of the monarchy which were perpetually in his view, and he might be led to the opinion that liberty could sustain no danger but from the executive power. Mr. Jefferson therefore seems to have entertained no apprehensions from the debility of the government; no jealousy of the state sovereignties; and no suspicion of their encroachments. His fears took a different direction, and all his precautions were used to check and limit the exercise of the authorities claimed by the government of the United States. Neither could he perceive danger to liberty except from the constituted authorities, and especially from the executive.

He did not feel so sensibly as those who had Chap. V. continued in the United States the necessity of 1793. adopting the constitution; and had, at one time, avowed a wish that it might be rejected by such a number of states as would secure certain alterations which he thought essential. His principal objections seem to have been, the want of a bill of rights, and the re-eligibility of the president. From this opinion however in favour of a partial rejection he is understood to have receded, after seeing the plan pursued by the convention of Massachussetts, and followed by other states, which was to adopt unconditionally, and to annex a recommendation of the amendments which were desired.

To the causes of division between these gentlemen which have been mentioned, was superadded another, the influence of which soon became very great on all the political transactions of the government.

The war which was terminated in 1783 had left in the bosoms of the American people a strong attachment to France, and enmity to Great Britain. These feelings, in a greater or less degree, were perhaps universal; and had been prevented from subsiding by circumstances to which allusions have already been repeatedly made. They evinced themselves in the state legislatures by commercial regulations; and were demonstrated by all those means by which the public sentiment is usually displayed. They found their way also into the national councils, where they manifested themselves in the motions respecting the favours which

Chap. v. ought to be shown to nations having commercial 1792. treaties with the United States.

Although affection for France, and jealousy of Britain, were sentiments common to the people of America, the same unanimity did not exist respecting the influence which ought to be allowed to those sentiments over the political conduct of the nation. While many favoured such discriminations as might eventually turn the commerce of the United States into new channels, others maintained that on this subject, equality ought to be observed, that trade ought to be guided by the judgment of individuals, and that no sufficient motives existed for that sacrifice of general and particular interests, which was involved in the discriminations proposed;...discriminations which, in their view, amounted to a tax on American agriculture, and a bounty on the navigation and manufactures of a favoured foreign nation.

The former opinion was taken up with warmth by the secretary of state; and the latter was adopted with equal sincerity by the secretary of the treasury. This contrariety of sentiment respecting commercial regulations was only a part of a general system. It extended itself to all the relations which might subsist between America and those two great powers.

In all popular governments, the press is the most ready channel by which the opinions and the passions of the few are communicated to the many; and of the press, the two great parties forming in the United States sought to avail themselves. The Gacette of the United States supported the systems of the treasury department, while other papers Chap. v. enlisted themselves under the banners of the op- 1792, position. Conspicuous among these was the National Gazette, a paper edited by a clerk in the department of state. The avowed purpose for which the secretary patronized this paper was to present to the eye of the American people, European intelligence derived from the Leyden gazette instead of English papers; but it soon became the vehicle of calumny against the funding and banking systems, against the duty on home made spirits, which was denominated an excise, and against the men who had proposed and supported those measures. With perhaps equal asperity, the papers attached to the party which had advocated these systems, assailed the motives of the leaders of the opposition.

This schism in his cabinet was a subject of extreme mortification to the president. Entertaining a high respect for the talents, and a real esteem for the characters of both gentlemen, he was unwilling to part with either; and exerted all the influence he possessed to effect a reconciliation between them. In a letter of the 23d of August, £^£h*°* addressed to the secretary of state, after reviewing !£bj«t,.hi' the critical situation of the United States with respect to its external relations; he thus expressed himself on this delicate subject. "How unfortunate and how much is to be regretted then, that while we are encompassed on all sides with avowed enemies, and insidious friends, internal dissensions should be harrowing and tearing our vitals. The last, to me, is the most serious, the most alarming,

Chap.v. and the most afflicting of the two; and without 1792. more charity for the opinions of one another in governmental matters, or some more infallible criterion by which the truth of speculative opinions, before they have undergone the test of experience, are to be forejudged than has yet fallen to the lot of fallibility, I belive it will be difficult, if not impracticable to manage the reins of government, or to keep the parts of it together: for if, instead of laying our shoulders to the machine, after measures are decided on, one pulls this way, and another that, before the utility of the thing is fairly tried, it must inevitably be torn asunder; and in my opinion, the fairest prospect of happiness and prosperity that ever was presented to man will be lost perhaps for ever. "My earnest wish and my fondest hope therefore is, that instead of wounding suspicions, and irritating charges, there may be liberal allowances, mutual forbearances, and temporising yielding on all sides. Under the exercise of these, matters will go on smoothly; and if possible, more prosperously. Without them, every thing must rub; the wheels of government will clog; our enemies will triumph; and, by throwing their weight into the disaffected scale, may accomplish the ruin of the goodly fabric we have been erecting."

"I do not mean to apply this advice, or these observations, to any particular person or character. I have given them in the same general terms to other officers * of the government, because the

* See Note JVo. V, at the end of the volume.

« PreviousContinue »