Page images
PDF
EPUB

to the president, must soon include him more Chap. v. pointedly in its strictures. 1793.

These divisions, which are inherent in the nature of popular governments, by which the chief magistrate, however unexceptionable his conduct, and however exalted his character, must, sooner or later, be more or less affected, were beginning to be essentially influenced by the great events of Europe.

That revolution which has been the admiration, ,phTiwhf the wonder, and the terror of the civilized world, S°itu»15r«ti

_B ,..on parti** in

had, from its commencement, been viewed intheUnit«i

'SOUS.

America with the deepest interest. In its first stage, but one sentiment respecting it prevailed; and that was a belief, accompanied with an ardent wish that it would meliorate the condition of France, extend the blessings of liberty, and promote the happiness of the human race. When the labours of the convention had terminated in a written constitution, this unanimity of opinion

members an opportunity of waiting on the chief magistrate to make the compliments adapted to the occasion.

This was seriously opposed, and the ayes and noes called upon the question. The adjournment was carried by fortyone to eighteen. The day was celebrated by several companies, and some toasts were published manifesting the deep sense which was entertained of the exalted services of this illustrious citizen. These circumstances gave great umbrage to some of those who could perceive monarchical tendencies in every act of respect, and the offenders were rebuked in the National Gazette for sitting up an idol who might become dangerous to liberty, and for the injustice of neglecting all his compatriots of the revolution, and ascribing to him the praise which was due to others.

Chap.v. %as in some degree impaired. By a few who had 1793 thought deeply on the science of government, and who, if not more intelligent, certainly judged more dispassionately than their fellow citizens, that instrument was believed to contain the principles of self destruction. It was feared that a system so ill balanced could not be permanent. On the same persons, a deep impression was made by the influence of the galleries over the legislature, and of mobs over the executive; by the tumultuous assemblages of the people, and the excesses which were practiced during the short and sickly existence of the regal authority. These did not appear to be the symptoms of a healthy constitution, or of genuine freedom. Persuaded that the present state of things could not last, they doubted, and they feared for the future.

In total opposition to this sentiment was that of the public. There seems to be something infectious in the example of a powerful and enlightened nation verging towards democracy, which imposes on the human mind, and leads human reason in fetters. Novelties introduced by such a nation are stripped of the objections which had been preconceived against them, and opinions which seemed the best settled, yield to the overwhelming weight of such dazzling authority. It presents the semblance of being the sense of mankind, breaking loose from the shackles which had been imposed by artifice, and asserting the freedom and the dignity of his nature.

The constitution of France therefore was generally received with unqualified plaudits. The establishment of a legislature consisting of a- Chap. V. single body, was not only defended as being 1793, adapted to the particular situation of that country, but found many advocates who maintained the abstract principle, that it was right in itself. Certain anonymous writers who supported the theory of a balanced government were branded as the advocates of royalty, and of aristocracy. To question the duration of the present order of things was thought to evidence an attachment to unlimited monarchy, or a blind prejudice in favour of British institutions; and the partiality of America in favour of a senate was visibly declining.

In this stage of the revolution however, the division of sentiment was not marked with sufficient distinctness, nor the passions of the people agitated with sufficient violence, for any powerful effect to be produced on the two parties in America. But when the monarchy was completely overthrown, and a republic decreed,* the

• This event was announced to the president by the minister plenipotentiary of France at Philadelphia, in February 1793. Through the secretary of state, an answer was returned of which the following is an extract, "the president receives with great satisfaction this attention of the executive council, and the desire they have manifested of making known to us the resolution entered into by the national convention even before a definitive regulation of their new establishment could take place. Be assured sir, that the government and the citizens of the United States, view with the most sincere pleasure, every advance of your nation towards its happiness, an object essentially connected wiih its liberty, and they consider the union of principles and pursuits between our two

Chap. v. people of the United States seemed electrified by 1793. the measure, and its influence was felt by the whole society. The war in which the several potentates of Europe were engaged against France, although in almost every instance declared by that power, was pronounced to be a war for the extirpation of human liberty, and for the banishment of free government from the face of the earth. The preservation of the constitution of the United States was supposed to depend on its issue, and the coalition against France was treated as a coalition against America also.

A cordial wish for the success of the French arms, or rather that the war might terminate without any diminution of French power, and in such a manner as to leave the people of that country free to choose their own form of government, was perhaps universal; but, respecting the probable issue of their internal conflicts, the same perfect unanimity did not prevail. By some few individuals, the practicability of governing by a system formed on the republican model, an immense, populous, and military nation, whose institutions, habits, and morals, were adapted to monarchy, and which was surrounded by armed neighbours, was deemed a problem which time alone could solve. The circumstances under which the abolition of royalty was declared, the Chap. V. massacres which preceded it, the scenes of tur. 1793. bulence and violence which were acted in every part of the nation, appeared to them to present an awful and doubtful state of things, respecting which no certain calculations could be made; and the idea that a republic was to be introduced and supported by force, was to them a paradox in politicks. Under the influence of these appearances, the apprehension was entertained that if the ancient monarchy should not be restored, a military despotism would be established. By the many, these unpopular doubts were deemed unpardonable heresies, and the few to whom they were imputed were pronounced hostile to liberty. A suspicion that the unsettled state of things in France had contributed to suspend the payment of the debt to that nation, had added something to the asperity with which the resolutions on that subject were supported ; and the French revolution will be found to have had an influence by no means inconsiderable on the strength of parties, and on the subsequent political transactions of the United States.

countries as a link which binds still closer their interests and affections.

"We earnestly wish, on our part, that these our mutual dispositions may be improved to mutual good, by establishing our commercial intercourse on principles as friendly to natural right and freedom as are those of our governments."

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »