Page images

Chap. vi. In this, as in every effort made by the executive 1793. to maintain, with good faith, the neutrality of the United States, that great party which denominated itself "THE PEOPLE" could perceive only a settled hostility to France and to liberty, a tame subserviency to British policy, and a desire, by provoking France, to engage America in the war, for the purpose of extirpating republican principles.*

Of the difficulty that would attend an adherence to the system which had been commenced, the administration received strong additional evidence in the acquittal of Gideon Henfield.

It will be recollected that, in pursuance of the resolution to restrain the citizens of the United States from engaging in military expeditions formed within the American territory, a prosecution had been instituted against this person. He had sailed from Charleston on board a French privateer equipped in that port, which had brought into Philadelphia the prizes she had made. This prosecution had been directed under the advice of the attorney general who was of opinion, that persons of this description were punishable for having violated subsisting treaties, which, by the constitution, are the supreme law of the land; and that they were also indictable at common law, for disturbing the peace of the United States.

To an act so susceptible of misrepresentation as was this prosecution, it could not be expected

See JVote, No. VIII. at the end of the volume.

that the democratic party would be inattentive, Chap vr. Their papers sounded the alarm, and it was uni- 1793. versally asked " what law had been offended, and under what statute was the indictment supported? were the American people already prepared to give to a proclamation the force of a legislative act, and to subject themselves to the will of the executive? but if they were already sunk to such a state of degradation, were they to be punished for violating a proclamation which had not been published when the offence was committed, if indeed it could be termed an offence to engage with France, combating for liberty against the combined despots of Europe?"

As the trial approached, a great degree of sensibility was displayed ; and the acquittal of Henfield was a triumph which was celebrated with extravagant marks of joy and exultation. The executive was bereaved by it of the strength to be derived from an opinion, that punishment might be legally inflicted on those who should openly violate the rules prescribed for the preservation of neutrality; and was exposed to the obloquy of having attempted a measure which the laws would not justify.

About this time, a question growing out of the war between France and Britain, the decision of which would materially affect the situation of the United States, was presented to the consideration of the executive.

It will be recollected that during the war which separated America from Britain, the celebrated compact termed the armed neutrality was formed Chap. vi. in the north of Europe, and notified to the bellig- 1793. erent powers. A willingness to acquiesce in the

'principles it asserted, one of which was that free bottoms should make free goods, was expressed by the governments engaged in the war, with the single exception of Great Britain. But however favourably the United States, as a belligerent, might view a principle which would promote the interests of inferior maritime powers, they were not willing after the termination of hostilities, to enter into engagements for its supportwhich might

endanger their future peace; and in this spirit were instructions given to their ministers in Europe.

In the treaty of commerce with France, this principle was engrafted, but with England no stipulation on the subject had been made. It followed, that, with France, the character of the bottom was imparted to the cargo; but with Britain, the law of nations was the rule by which the respective rights of the belligerent and neutral were to be decided.

Construing this rule to give security to the goods of a friend in the bottoms of an enemy, and to subject the goods of an enemy to capture in the bottoms of a friend, the British cruisers took French property out of American vessels, and their courts condemned it as lawful prize.

Against the acquiescence of the American executive in this exposition of the law of nations, Mr. Genet had remonstrated in such terms as he was accustomed to employ; and on the ninth of July, in the moment of the contest respecting the Little Democrat, he had written a letter demanding Chap. vi. an immediate and positive answer to the question, 1793. what measures the president had taken, or would take, to cause the American flag to be respected? He observed that " as the English would continue to carry off with impunity French citizens and French property found on board of American vessels, without embarrassing themselves with the philosophical principles proclaimed by the president of the United States," and as the embarrassing engagements of France deprived her of the privileges of making reprisals at every point, it was necessary for the interests of both nations, quickly to agree on taking other measures.

Not receiving an immediate answer, Mr. Genet, towards the close of July, again addressed the secretary of state on the subject. In this extraordinary letter, after complaining of the insults offered to the American flag by seizing the property of Frenchmen confided to its protection, he added, "your political rights are counted for nothing. In vain do the principles of neutrality establish that friendly vessels make friendly goods; in vain, sir, does the president of the United States endeavour, by his proclamation, to reclaim the observation of this maxim; in vain does the desire of preserving peace lead to sacrifice the interests of France to that of the moment; in vain does the thirst of riches preponderate over honour in the political balance of America: all this management, all this condescension, all this humility, end in nothing; our enemies laugh at it; and the French, too confident, are punished for having

Chap. vi. believed that the American nation had a flag, that 1793. they had some respect for their laws, some conviction of their strength, and entertained some sentiment of their dignity. It is not possible for me, sir, to paint to you all my sensibility at this scandal which tends to the diminution of your commerce, to the oppression of ours, and to the debasement and vilification of republics. It is for the Americans to make known their generous indignation at this outrage ; and I must confine myself to demand of you a second time, to inform me of the measures which you have taken in order to obtain restitution of the property plundered from my fellow citizens, under the protection of your flag. It is from our government they have learnt that the Americans were our allies, that the American nation was sovereign, and that they knew how to make themselves respected. It is then under the very same sanction of the French nation that they have confided their property and persons to the safeguard of the American flag, and on her they submit the care of causing those rights to be respected. But if our fellow citizens have been deceived, if you are not in a condition to maintain the sovereignty of your people, speak; we have guaranteed it when slaves, we shall be able to render it formidable, having become freemen."

On the day preceding the date of this offensive letter, the secretary of state had answered that of the ninth of July, and without noticing the unbecoming style in which the decision of the executive was demanded, had avowed and defended the opinion that, "by the general law of nations,

« PreviousContinue »