Abbildungen der Seite

obligations are absolute, their utility vnquestionable ; they relate to objects which, with probity and sincerity, generally admit of being brought within clear and intelligible rules.

But the same cannot be said of gratitude. It is not very often that between nations, it can be pronounced with certainty, that there exists a solid foundation for the sentiment; and how far it can justifiably be per. mitted to operate, is always a question of still greater difficulty.

T'ne basis of gratitude is a benefit received or intended, which there was no right to claim, originating in a regard to the interest or advantage of the party on whom the benefit is, or is meant to be, conferred. If a service is rendered from views relative to the immediate inte. rest of the party who performs it, and is productive of reciprocal advantages, there seems scarcely in such a case, to be an adequate basis for a sentiment like that of gratitude. The effect at least would be wholly disproportioned to the cause, if such a service ought to beget more than a disposition to render in turn a correspon. dent good office, founded on mutual interest and reciprocal advantage. But gratitude would require much more than this; it would exact, to a certain extent, even a sacrifice of the interest of the party obliged to the service or benefit of the one by whom the obligation had been conferred.

Between individuals, occasion is not unfrequently given for the exercise of gratitude. Instances of con. ferring benefits from kind and benevolent dispositions or feelings towards the person benefited, without any other interest on the part of the person who renders the service, than the pleasure of doing a good action, occur every day among individuals. But among nations they perhaps never occur. It may be affirmed as a general principle, that the predominant motive of good offices from one nation to another, is the interest or advantage of the nation which performs them.

Indeed the rule of morality in this respect is not precisely the same between nations, as between individu. alg. The duty of making its own welfare the guide of its actions, is much stronger upon the former, than upon the latter; in proportion to the greater magnitude and importance of national, compared with individual happiness, and to the greater permanency of the effects of national than of individual conduct. Existing millions, and for the most part future generations, are concerned in the present measures of a government : while the consequences of the private actions of an individual ordinarily terminate with himself, or are circumscribed within a narrow compass.

Whence it follows, that an individual may on nume. rous occasions meritoriously indulge the emotions of generosity and benevolence, not only without an eye to, but even at the expense of, bis own interest. But a government can rarely, if at all, be justifiable in pursuing a similar course; and if it does so, ought to confine itself within much stricter bounds.* Good offices which are indifferent to the interest of a nation performing them, or which are compensated by the existence or expecta. tion of some reasonable equivalent; or which produce an essential good to the nation to which they are ren. dered, without real detriment to the affairs of the bene. factors, prescribe perhaps the limits of national gene. rosity or benevolence.

It is not here meant to recommend a policy absolutely selfish or interested in nations ; but to show, that a policy regulated by their own interest, as far as justice and good faith permit, is, and ought to be, their prevailing one : and that either to ascribe to them a different principle of action, or to deduce from the supposition of it, arguments for a self-denying and self-sacrificing grati. tude on the part of a nation, which may have received from another good offices, is to misrepresent or misconoeive what usually are, and ought to be, the springs of national conduct.

[ocr errors]

* This conclusion derives confirmation from the reflection, that under every form of government, rulers are only trustees for the happiness and interest of their nation, and cannot, consistently with their trust, follow the suggest ions of kindness or humanity towards others, to the prejudice of their constituents.

These general reflections will be auxiliary to a just estimate of our real situation with regard to France : of which a closer view will be taken in a succeeding paper.

No. V. FRANCE, the rival, time immemorial, of Great Britain, had in the course of the war, which ended in 1763, suffered from the successful arms of the latter, the severest losses and the most mortifying defeats. Britain from that moment bad acquired an ascendant in the affairs of Europe, and in the commerce of the world, too decided and too humiliating to be endured without extreme inpatience, and an eager desire of finding a favourable opportunity to destroy it, and to repair the breach which had been made in the national glory. The animosity of wounded pride, conspired with the calcu. lations of interest, to give a keen edge to that impatience, and to that desire.

The American revolution offered the occasion. It early attracted the notice of France, though with extreme circumspection. As far as countenance and aid may be presumed to have been given prior to the epocb of the acknowledgment of our independence, it will be no onkind derogation to assert, that they were marked neither with liberality nor with vigour; that they wore the ap. pearance rather of a desire to keep alive disturbances which might embarrass a rival, than of a serious design to assist a revolution, or a serious expectation that it could be effected.

The victories of Saratoga, the capture of an army, which went a great way towards deciding the issue of the contest, decided also the hesitations of France. They established in the government of that country, a confi. dence of our ability to accomplish our purpose, and as a consequence of it, produced the treaties of alliance and commerce.

It is impossible to see in all this any thing more than the conduct of a jealous competitor, embracing a most promising opportunity to repress the pride, and diminish

the power of a dangerous rival, by seconding a success. ful resistance to its authority with the object of lopping off a valuable portion of its dominions. "The dismemberment of this country from Great Britain was an obvi. ous, and a very important, interest of France. It cannot be doubted, that it was both the determining motive and an adequate compensation, for the assistance afforded to us.

Men of sense, in this country, derived encouragement to the part which their zeal for liberty prompted them to take in our revolution, from the probability of the co-operation of France and Spain. It will be remembered, that this argument was used in the publications of the day; but upon what was it bottomed? Upon the known competition between those nations and Great Britain, upon their evident interest to reduce her power and cir cumscribe her empire ; not certainly upon motives of regard to our interest, or of attachment to our cause. Whoever should have alleged the latter, as the grounds of the expectation held out, would have been then justly considered as a visionary or a deceiver. And whoever shall now ascribe to such motives the aid which we did receive, would not deserve to be viewed in a better light.

The inference from these facts is not obscure. Aid and co-operation, founded upon a great interest, pursued and obtained by the party rendering them, is not a proper stock upon which to engraft that enthusiastic gratitude, which is claimed from us by those who love France more than the United States. ..

This view of the subject, extorted by the extravagancy of such a claim, is not meant to disparage the just pretensions of France to our good will. Though neither in the motives to the succours which she furnished, nor in their extent (considering how powerfully the point of honour, in such war, reinforced the considerations of interest when she was once engaged) can be found a suffis. cient basis for that gratitude which is the theme of so much declamation : yet we shall find, in the manner of affording them, just cause for our esteem and friendship,

she was, reinforced", powerfullurnished, her

France did not attempt, in the first instance, to take advantage of our situation to extort from us any humili. ating or injurious concessions, as the price of her assistance; nor afterwards in the progress of the war, to impose hard terms as the condition of particular aids.

Though this course was certaiuly dictated by policy; get it was a magnanimous policy, such as always coliget it was a magnan.mobinnesteem of mankind: stitutes a title to the approbation and esteem of mankind; and a claim to the friendship and acknowledgment of ihe party in whose favour it is practised.

But these sentiments are satisfied on the part of a xation, when they produce sincere wishes for the bappiness of the party from whom it has experienced such conduct, and a cordial disposition to render all good and friendly offices, which can be rendered without prejudice to its own solid and permanent interests.

To'ask of a nation so situated, to make a sacrifice of substantial interest; to expose itself to the jealousy, ill will, or resentment of the rest of the world; to hazard, in an eminent degree, its own sefety, for the benefit of the party who may liave observed towards it the conduct which has been described ; wonld be to ask more than the nature of the case demands, more than the fundamental maxims of society authorize, more than the dictates of sound reason justify.

A question bas arisen, with regard to the proper object of that gratitude, which is so much insisted upon : whether it be the unfortunate prince by whom the assis. tance received was given ; or the nation of whom he was the chief or the organ? It is extremely interest. ing to the national justice, to form right conceptions or this point.

The arguments which support the latter idea, are as 'follows :

66 Louis the XVI. was but the constitutional agent 6 of the French people. He acted for and on bebalf of " the nation; it was with their money and their blood che supported our cause. It is to them, therefore, not * to him, that ogr obligations are due. Louis the XVI. " in taking our part, was no doubt actuated by state

« ZurückWeiter »