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The President's message announced that the difficulties in our foreign relations were not yet terminated. He declared, however, that the delay in arriving at that result, in the case of the British Government, had not arisen from causes which forbade the expectation of an amicable adjustment during the present session of Congress. He stated that Spain had advanced a force to the Red River—that he had proposed the Sabine as the temporary boundary—that the answer was not yet received— that the official correspondence would develop other particulars. He said the inhabitants of Orleans and Mississippi territories had evinced the utmost promptitude in meeting the requisitions made on them by the Government.
He touched very lightly on Burr's expedition—giving the names of no individuals—only mentioning it as an illegal attempt against Spain: and he said suitable measures had been adopted for its suppression, and for bringing those engaged in it to justice. In concluding this topic, he remarked:
“It was due to that good faith which ought ever to be the rule of action in public as well as in private transactions, it was due to good order and regular government, that while the public force was acting strictly on the defensive and merely to protect our citizens from aggression, the criminal attempts of private individuals to decide for their country the question of peace or war, by commencing active and unauthorized hostilities, should be promptly and efficaciously suppressed.”
Whether it would be necessary to increase our regular force, would, he said, depend upon the result of our Spanish negotiations; and this being uncertain, he recommended provisional measures to the consideration of Congress. The approaches to New Orleans ought, he declared, to be effectually guarded, both against outward attacks, and for the “internal support of the country;” and encouragement to be given to the settlement of the west bank of the Mississippi, “within reach of New Orleans.”
A further appropriation was recommended for gunboats, for “repairing fortifications already established, and for the erection of such works as might have real effect in obstructing the approach of an enemy to our seaport towns, or remaining before them.”
Again, alluding to Burr's conspiracy, the President said the laws had wisely provided punishment for insurrection, and for enterprises against foreign States. In the latter case, they had given powers of prevention to a certain extent—and he inquired if the same powers would not be reasonable and useful where the enterprise was preparing against the United States. He suggested that if binding over to peace and good behavior could be extended to acts to be done out of the jurisdiction of the United States, it would be effectual in some cases where the offender was now able to keep every indication of his criminal purposes out of sight. *
Our Indian relations were pronounced in an amicable and highly favorable condition. Mention was made of the progress of Lewis and Clarke's exploration of the Missouri—of Mr. Freeman's, of the Red River—and of Lieutenant Pike's, of the Mississippi.
The following recommendation was submitted in relation to the slave trade.
“I congratulate you, fellow citizens, on the approach of the period at which you may interpose your authority constitutionally, to withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights which have been so long continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa, and which the morality, the reputation, and the best interests of our country, have long been eager to proscribe. Although no law you may pass can take prohibitory effect till the first day of the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, yet the intervening period is not too long to prevent, by timely notice, expeditions which cannot be completed before that day.”
The receipts of the Treasury during the fiscal year, were stated to be near fifteen millions of dollars. From this sum, upwards of three millions of principal, and nearly four millions of interest, had been paid on the public debt—two millions seven hundred thousand on American claims assumed in the purchase of Louisiana—and near two millions in reimbursing the five and a half per cent. stock.
He recommended the suppression of duties on salt, it being
“a necessary of life,” and the continuance of those composing the Mediterranean fund, “levied chiefly on luxuries,” for “a short period,” after which they “would become unnecessary for any purpose now within contemplation.”
Then came the following passages on the principles on which tariffs should be regulated, and on the duties of the Government in respect to education.
“When both of these branches of revenue shall in this way be relinquished, there will still ere long be an accumulation of moneys in the treasury beyond the installments of public debt which we are permitted by contract to pay. They cannot, then, without a modification assented to by the public creditors, be applied to the extinguishment of this debt, and the complete liberation of our revenues—the most desirable of all objects; nor, if our peace continues, will they be wanting for any other existing purpose. The question, therefore, now comes forward—to what other objects shall these surpluses be appropriated, and the whole surplus of impost, after the entire discharge of the public debt, and during those intervals when the purposes of war shall not call for them 2 Shall we suppress the impost and give that advantage to foreign over domestic manufactures? On a few articles of more general and necessary use, the suppression in due season will doubtless be right, but the great mass of the articles on which impost is paid is foreign luxuries, purchased by those only who are rich enough to afford themselves the use of them. Their patriotism would certainly prefer its continuance and application to the great purposes of the public education, roads, rivers, canals, and such other objects of public improvement as it may be thought proper to add to the constitutional enumeration of federal powers. By these operations new channels of communication will be opened between the States; the lines of separation will disappear, their interests will be identified, and their union cemented by new and indissoluble ties. Education is here placed among the articles of public care, not that it would be proposed to take its ordinary branches out of the hands of private enterprise, which manages so much better all the concerns to which it is equal; but a public institution can alone supply those sciences which, though rarely called for, are yet necessary to complete the circle, all the parts of which contribute to the improvement of the country, and some of them to its preservation. The subject is now proposed for the consideration of Congress, because, if approved by the time the State Legislatures shall have deliberated on this extension of the federal trusts, and the laws shall be passed, and other arrangements made for their execution, the necessary funds will be on hand and without employment. I suppose an amendment to the Constitution, by consent of the States, necessary, because the objects now recommended are not among those enumerated in the Constitution, and to which it permits the public moneys to be applied. “The present consideration of a national establishment for education, particularly, is rendered proper by this circumstance also, that if Congress, approving the proposition, shall yet think it more eligible to found it on a donation of lands, they have it now in their power to endow it with those which will be among the earliest to produce the necessary income. This foundation would have the advantage of being independent on war, which may suspend other improvements by requiring for its own purposes the resources destined for them.”
After alluding to the uncertainty of our foreign relations, and their liability to change at any moment, he said:
“Our duty is, therefore, to act upon things as they are, and to make a reasonable provision for whatever they may be. Were armies to be raised whenever a speck of war is visible in our horizon, we never should have been without them. Our resources would have been exhausted on dangers which have never happened, instead of being reserved for what is really to take place. A steady, perhaps a quickened pace in preparations for the defence of our seaport towns and waters; an early settlement of the most exposed and vulnerable parts of our country; a militia so organized that its effective portions can be called to any point in the Union, or volunteers instead of them to serve a sufficient time, are means which may always be ready, yet never preying on our resources until actually called into use. They will maintain the public interests while a more permanent force shall be in course of preparation. But much will depend on the promptitude with which these means. can be brought into activity. If war be forced upon us, in spite of our long and vain appeals to the justice of nations, rapid and vigorous movements in its outset will go far towards securing us in its course and issue, and towards throwing its burdens on those who render necessary the resort from reason to force.”
The next day he informed Congress, by a special message, that the death of the British minister (Mr. Fox), charged with the duty of negotiating with us, had not interrupted the manifestation of a disposition on the part of that Government for a speedy and amicable termination of those negotiations. Under these circumstances, he recommended a further suspension of the non-importation Act of the preceding session.
Congress almost immediately (December 6th) acted on this recommendation, suspending the execution of that Act to the ensuing first of July, after voting down a proposition supported by the Federalists, Quids, and a few Republicans, that the suspension extend to December 31, 1807. Crowninshield declared, in the debate, that England had never seriously entered into negotiation with us until the passage of this Act—and that but for its passage, it was his opinion she never would have entered into such negotiation. If she found our policy wavering, she would very probably renew her depredations on our commerce, as her whole system of policy was hostile to our growing commercial greatness. This is probably to be taken as the view of the Administration.
But the President was authorized to further suspend the non-importation Act to the second Monday in December following; and on the 3d of February, 1807, the Secretary of State instructed our ministers charged with the negotiation with England, to inform that Government that the President, “trusting to the influence of mutual dispositions and interests in giving an amicable issue to the negotiation, would, if no intervening intelligence forbade, exercise the authority vested in him by the Act of continuing its suspension from the first day of July to the term limited by the Act, and which would afford to Congress, who would then be in session, the opportunity of making due provision for the case.”
Burr's conspiracy soon occupied the attention of the House. About the middle of January, 1807, John Randolph introduced a resolution for information on the subject, which passed ; and on the 22d, the President replied in a message, giving an outline of the conspiracy so far as it was then known to the Government, and of the civil and military proceedings for its suppression. In regard to surmises that Burr was to receive foreign aid, the President declared they were “without proof or probability”—were “to be imputed to the vauntings of the author of this enterprise, to multiply his partisans by magnifying the belief of his prospects and support.” He stated that Burr appeared to have “two distinct objects, which might be carried on either jointly or separately, and either the one or the other first, as circumstances should direct.” One was to separate the Union by the Alleghany Mountains—the other to attack Mexico. A third and “merely ostensible” “object was provided,” namely, “the settlement of a pretended purchase of a tract of country on the Washita, claimed by a Baron Bastrop.” “This was to serve as the pretext for all his preparations, an allurement for such followers as really wished to acquire settlements in that country, and a cover under which to retreat in the event of final discomfiture of both branches of his real design.” Finding himself thwarted in his first purpose, by the unshaken “attachment of the western country to the present Union,” he had determined to seize on New Orleans, plunder the bank, possess himself of the military and naval stores, and proceed on his expedition to Mexico. The President believed, however, that the expedition “could not threaten serious danger to New Orleans.” Under the circumstances, the President thought Wilkinson had acted properly in sending his prisoners to Washington, “probably on the consideration that an impartial trial could not be expected during the present agitation of New Orleans, and that that city was not as yet a safe place of confinement.” Congress appear to have been more alarmed than the President, and far more alarmed by the documents that accompanied the President's message' than by the message itself. The insig* These were Wilkinson's affidavit of December 14th, 1806; Burr's letter to Wilkinson of July 25, 1806; Wilkinson's letters to the Government, of December 14th and 18th,
1806—the last covering Bollman's letter to Wilkinson, of September 27, 1806, and its inclosed letter in cipher from Burr.