Page images

ber, 1799) declaring that “nullification” by the State “sovereignties” was the “rightful remedy" for federal usurpation. This was the first announcement of the policy which South Carolina put into operation a generation later, and which a generation later still grew into the formidable doctrine of secession.

Jefferson has been not only blamed for encouraging disunion in the Kentucky Resolutions, but also ridiculed for entertaining baseless fears. Either charge is hard to prove in the light of contemporary evidence. Jefferson was far ahead of the public sentiment of the day in his devotion to the Union. He wrote to Elbridge Gerry a month after the resolutions were passed: “I do with a sincere zeal wish an inviolable preservation of our Federal Constitution according to the true sense in which it was adopted by the States.” To the sincerity of this vow his voluminous writings bear testimony. He rebuked speculations on disunion, whether they came from friends like Taylor, or enemies like Hamilton and Wolcott. His object in the Kentucky Resolutions was decentralization, not disunion. Indeed, it was just exactly the destruction of the Federal Union through its conversion into a consolidated despotism that he believed he was working to prevent. He considered the Alien and Sedition Acts “merely an experiment on the American mind to see how far it will bear an avowed vio

lation of the Constitution,” and thought that if they were swallowed by the people other acts would follow, such as a life term for President and senators, or "the transfer of the succession to the President's heirs.”

“That Jefferson ever wrote such folly,” says McMaster, “is of itself enough to deprive him of every possible claim to statesmanship.” But we have abundant testimony that Hamilton was looking for "the crisis,” even if it came by arms, which should convert the "frail and worthless fabric of our Constitution” into something nearer the admired English model. He and King and Gouverneur Morris and other Federalists corresponded quite frankly on the prospects of establishing an American empire on “foundations much firmer than have yet been devised.” Morris confessed a few years after Hamilton's death that “Hamilton disliked the Constitution, believing all Republican governments radically defective.” He had assented to the Constitution because he thought it "might hold us together for a time; but he trusted that in the changes and chances of time we should be involved in some war” (the “crisis”] “which might strengthen our Union and nerve the executive.” Jefferson may have let his fears get the better of his judgment, just as his Federalist opponents did when, like Uriah Tracy, they spoke of the Democrats as "worthy of the gallows,” or, like Fisher Ames, that such a government as Jefferson preferred "would soon ensure war with

Great Britain, a Cisalpine Alliance with France, plunder and anarchy.” But to call Jefferson's fears groundless or the expression of them "folly” is rather to estimate the security of the Union of 1798 by the results of the struggle of 1861-5.

Passions ran high in those closing years of the eighteenth century, when the moderating effect of Washington's presence was removed. “Men who had been lifelong friends," wrote Jefferson,"crossed the street to avoid saluting each other.” We were actually at war with France on the ocean, yet the French faction in America were loudly insisting that the enemy was England. There was little in fact to choose between the two countries in the matter of depredations on our commerce. Fortunately for our peace, offers of conciliation came from France. Talleyrand wanted only to embroil us with Great Britain. When he saw the effect of the X Y Z letters on America he changed his tactics. With characteristic effrontery he denied all connection with his insulting agents and assured our envoy at The Hague that a minister from the United States would be received in Paris “with the respect due to a free, independent, and powerful nation.” President Adams, to the disgust of the Hamiltonians, who were bent on war, and to his own eternal credit,

1 It is hard to absolve Hamilton from the charge of deliberately fomenting the war spirit in order that he, as ranking major-general and commander in the field, might have an army to use in his cherished plan of co-operation with the Venezuelan adventurer, Miranda, in freeing the Spanish colonies and bringing them under AngloAmerican influence to balance the power of France. Hamilton wrote to Miranda in August, 1798, the very month that Talleyrand was offering peace to our minister in Holland: “The plan in my opinion ought to be a fleet of Great Britain and an army of the United States, and a government for the liberated territory agreeable to both the coöperators, about which there will be no difficulty. To arrange the plan a competent authority from Great Britain to some person here is the best expedient. Your presence here in that case will be extremely essential. We are raising an army of about 12,000 men. General Washington has resumed his station at the head of the armies. I am second in command.

again sent a commission to Paris, in October, 1799. Before they arrived, however, Napoleon Bonaparte had overthrown the corrupt directory by the coup d'état of Brumaire, and made himself master of France under the title of First Consul. Bonaparte posed as a republican and a reconciler. He sought peace to prepare for conquest. He was a man of armies and diplomacy, a continental man. Sea power or the economics of trade he never understood. He boasted that he would "make commerce manœuvre like battalions." America was remote and negligible as yet. Napoleon offered to release us from the treaty of alliance of 1778 if we would waive our claims on France for unlawful seizures of our vessels. The formal convention restoring peace between the United States and France was signed September 30, 1800.

Our country was already in the midst of another violent presidential campaign in which Adams and


“With esteem and regard,

“Alexander Hamilton."

Jefferson were again the candidates, with C. C. Pinckney and Aaron Burr for second place. The Federalists were torn with faction. The persecutions under the Sedition Act had neutralized the brief popularity of the administration after the X Y Z disclosures. Adams's courageous peace with France had brought down anathemas on his head. Hamilton, with his chances of military glory gone glimmering and his friends removed from the cabinet, wrote a bitter invective against John Adams to prove his unsuitableness for the chief magistracy -and then urged the Federalists to vote for him. War taxes for a war that was never declared and that was unrecognized by half the country increased the dissatisfaction with the administration. The physician for the country's ills was already at hand, said Jefferson, in the person of the tax-collector. The Federalists hung together in a discordant unity to prevent the calamity of a Republican triumph; but they were powerless to check the rising tide. Every local election in New England and the Middle States showed an increase in the vote, and the increase was largely in favor of the Republicans. Jefferson was tireless in his propaganda and unwearied in his patience. He noted the gain of a Republican congressman here and the State assemblyman there; he cheered Madison with the report of "a considerable change working in the minds of the people to the eastward” [New England), and congratulated

« PreviousContinue »