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Thus Jefferson, in the act of executing this grant, could not have performed a more grateful office.
The plan, reported by him, for the government of the ceded territory, ere long repealed because of its inconvenience,* in the exclusion of slavery, is seen, by the vote, to have had a large acceptance,—while the proposed reduction of the demands of the Treasury, fallacious as it was, was welcome to men, blind to, or paltering with their duty.
In public affairs nothing is more replete with danger than a want of decision ; and no maxim is more frequently present in the history of the United States than that briefly uttered by Hamilton,—“Decision is true wisdom.”
The proceedings stated were all of a sort to smooth the way to the gratification of Jefferson's chief desire.
The events of the last year had shown that every effort to conclude a commercial treaty with Great Britain, had been vain, and if France could have been previously induced to adopt a more liberal policy, the negotiations for the treaty of peace had dispelled every hope of that kind. The previous Congress had, in conformity with Hamilton's views, dissuaded a multiplication of pacts with foreign nations, until the confederacy should have been invested with an efficient control over its members, and until time and experience should have indicated what system of regulations would best promote the permanent interests of the United States. But the recent overtures were to be met, and when the field of ambition was so circumscribed at home, nothing could be more attractive than the position of determining the foreign relations of this youthful empire ; nor more enchanting to a visionary mind, than the attempt to overturn at once the prevailing maxims of European diplomacy, and to substitute an universal system of
* Curtis, ii., 344.
free trade. The mode adopted to obtain this object was as certain to result in failure, as the object was at that time hopeless. It was a novel idea, and had an imposing air, to establish a central commission at Paris, whither the nations of Europe might resort, to ask a participation in the commerce of the new world. Should the dignity of Britain scorn, or the pride of Spain revolt at the idea of negotiating under the supervision of France, yet still it would be a happy thing to escape the turmoils of a jarring confederacy, to withdraw from the sufferings of a recent war, and to enjoy the only official emoluments, ease and honour, which the penury of the people could support. To others, was left the labour of building up the constitution of the country.
Jefferson introduced a report on the foreign relations. After reciting the advantages to be derived from treaties with the various nations of Europe, he proposed that each treaty should contain a stipulation that each party should have the right to carry their own produce, manufactures, and merchandise, in their own bottoms to the ports of the other, and thence to take the produce and manufactures of the other, paying such duties only as are paid by the most favoured nation,-freely, where freely granted to such nation, and paying the compensation where such nation does the same. “That with nations holding possessions in America, a direct and similar intercourse be admitted between the United States and such possessions; or if that could not be obtained, a direct and similar intercourse between the United States and certain free ports within such possessions. If neither of thesepermission to bring, in their own bottoms, their produce and merchandise to the United States directly, and similar permission to the United States as to their produce and vessels ; or else, a permission to the inhabitants of such possessions to carry their produce and merchandise in their own bottoms to the free ports of other nations; and thence to take back, directly, the produce and merchandise of the United States; and that in all such treaties, the United States should be regarded as one nation, upon the principles of the federal constitution.” Provisions that free ships should make free goods, defining articles of contraband and the state of blockade, were also to be made; with the additional stipulation, that a contraband trade should not induce confiscation.
Security was also to be assured to persons following the peaceful arts; and a stipulation that private ships should continue their trade free and unmolested during war, and that privateers should not be employed, was proposed. Aliens were to be excluded holding real estate within the United States, as “ utterly inadmissible by their several laws and policy ; but in case they did, it was not on their demise to escheat, but might be sold for the benefit of their representatives. All treaties were to be limited to ten years, unless the foreign party “pertinaciously insisted" on their being extended to fifteen years. On the discussion of the leading principles of these instructions, placing each nation on the footing of the most favoured, a substitute was offered to establish the intercourse on the basis of “ natives ;" but if this could not be obtained, then on that of the most favoured nation.” This amendment was lost on the vote by states, though of the members present, a majority were in favour of it.* It was also contended that a distinction ought to be made between British and American vessels by a difference of duties. If not then made, that it was at least important to reserve the power of making such a discrimination in case, pecu
* Affirmative-Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, (three to two,) Jefferson and Monroe in the negative. NegativeNew Hampshire and New Jersey. Divided-Rhode Island, New-York, North and South Carolina.
liar circumstances should render its exercise necessary. Owing to these differences of opinion, it was moved to postpone acting upon this report until the disposition and concurrence of the several state legislatures should be ascertained, which, the motion stated, “ the constitution renders highly prudent, if not indispensably necessary in forming commercial treaties.”
With this motion a resolution was offered directing foreign powers to be apprised of the desire of the United States “ to form treaties upon terms of perfect reciprocity and equality; and for that purpose, were ready to enter into negotiations in America.” Five commissioners had been appointed to negotiate the treaty with England, thus representing each important section of the union. To gain the benefit of this precedent, it had been proposed to appoint two additional commissioners. One of the objects of this resolution was, to prevent so unnecessary an increase of the number of foreign ministers. But it was defeated, and the report of Jefferson was recommitted. Another report had recently been made proposing a reduction of the civil list. It was next moved to postpone these appointments for the purpose of considering this report. The division of states being equal, this motion was also lost.* The idea of two additional commissioners was then abandoned, and it was moved to add one to the existing number.
This proposal was resisted, and in lieu of it a declaratory resolution was offered, “ that the interests of the United States do not require more than three commissioners plenipotentiary to be supported in Europe to negotiate treaties of commerce.” This declaration would have defeated Jefferson, and at the instance of Virginia it was superseded by the previous question. A debate next arose
on a proposal to reduce the salaries of these ministers,* which prevailed. To prevent this reduction, a member from Virginia insisted that it was a proposition which required the assent of nine states. This extraordinary objection was defeated, only five members voting for it ; but the next day, at the instance of Gerry, the salary was established at nine thousand dollars.
Jefferson had recommended a delusive provision for the public creditors, and had urged “forbearance," on the ground “ that the states were just relieved from the ravages of predatory armies, returning from an attendance in camps to the culture of their fields ; beginning to sow, but not yet having reaped ; exhausted of necessaries and habitual comforts, and therefore needing new supplies out of the first proceeds of their labour.” He was also of the committee which had recommended retrenchments in the public expenditure, and which did not contemplate in their report this additional officer.
Under these circumstances, the appointment of an unnecessary commissioner was viewed as proceeding solely from a desire to bestow office on an individual, by a body of which he was a member, without any regard to the condition of the country. It gave rise to much dissatisfaction. At this moment a letter was received from Franklin, announcing tặat Jay had determined to embark for America. The motive to an increase of the number of the commission now ceased, and the measure was abandoned.
The office of secretary of foreign affairs was vacant. Jay, in his late mission, had confirmed the confidence of the nation. His appointment to that department would satisfy the public, and propitiate those who were offended with this gross and glaring effort to provide for a favour
* From $11,000 to $8,000. VOL. III.–6