Abbildungen der Seite
[ocr errors]

version of facts, suspicions and jealousies, and unfounded accusations of the whole government.”

This systematic and determined opposition to law, in a large portion of the citizens, was a matter of deep regret to the friends of a republican government. It was evidence of very crude and erroneous notions of civil liberty, which, if not corrected, would soon produce a state of complete anarchy. Surely it needed but little reflection, to have convinced even the common class of people, that the public debt, necessarily incurred in the war of the Revolution, must be paid, and the expenses of government promptly provided for. The defensive war, on the western frontiers, against the Indian tribes, who were destroying the peaceable citizens in that section of the country, was also justified by considerations of humanity, as well as from a regard to future national prosperity; and the measure required a large increase of taxes or revenue. But the people were persuaded into the belief, that the excise originated in views, similar to taxes imposed on them by the British parliament, in 1775: that it was an oppressive and needless burthen, which, as freemen, they ought not to bear. So liable are the people to err; especially under new burthens, and when party politicians are busy in the work of misrepresenting the views of rulers, and in exciting the passions of the uninformed.

The conduct of the President, on this occasion, as well as that still more embarrassing one, presented by the treatment received from England and France, was a model for all rulers and statesmen, who are chiefly desirous of the welfare of their country. His energy and firmness of character were sufficient for the crisis, in both cases; while his prudent and conciliating course satisfied the impartial and reasonable, among both foreign and domestic aggressors.

In his hands, the honor and respectability of the nation were perfectly safe; nor was its welfare less secure, guarded by his wisdom and moderation. He was resolved to support the dignity of government, and to maintain the constitutional liberties of the people. Clamours and censures, from temporary excitement, or from mistaken views of his upright and patriotic purposes, did not move him; he sought chiefly the true and permanent prosperity of the Union, and yet he was not indifferent to the approbation of the intelligent and virtuous portion of the community.*

* The sound views of the President, on this occasion, are concisely expressed in a letter to one of his particular friends. “ The real people, suddenly as

The President embraced this occasion for recommending a permanent system, by Act of Congress, for regulating the militia ; for arming, organizing and disciplining them; and thus, “to provide for calling them forth, to execute the laws of the Union, to suppress insurrections, and to repel invasions.” He, as well as most other citizens in the republic, even those who had assumed the military character in defence of civil liberty,* were averse from a standing army, and deemed a well regulated militia, consisting of citizen-soldiers, the only safe and proper substitute, under a free republican government.

In his speech, the President also referred to the relations of the United States with foreign powers, and to the measures he had adopted in this respect, during the recess of Congress. Nor did he omit to invite the attention of the legislature to the important subject of the national finances. He recommended the adoption of some system for the gradual reduction of the public debt, and depicted the evils both to government and the people, from an accumulation thereof, which he apprehended, unless rigid economy were observed in the public appropriations, and means were prepared for diminishing the national debt, even on the condition of an additional impost in some cases.

The Senate expressed their approbation of the measures which had been pursued by the Executive, and of the views which were suggested in the speech : but there were several dissentients in that branch of the legislature, as to the force employed in quelling the insurrection in Pennsylvania; and the policy pursued towards the French and British governments.

In the House of Representatives there was a small majority opposed to the views and measures of the President; and the answer of that body to his speech, was far from expressing a full approbation of the sentiments advanced or the measures recommended. Indeed, no direct reference was made to the insurrection and its suppression, though its fortunate termination was

sembled to express their opinions on political subjects, ought never to be confounded with self-created societies, assuming the right to control the constituted authorities, and to dictate to public opinion. While the former are ever entitled to respect, the latter is incompatible with all government; and must either fall into general disesteem, or finally overturn the established order of things.”

* It is believed that very few, if any, native citizens of the United States, were in favor of a standing army. When the Society of Cincinnati was formed, in May, 1783, at the close of the Revolutionary war, one consideration, one fundamental principle was, to inculcate to the latest ages, the duty of laying down, in peace, the arms assumed for the national liberty and welfare."

just cause of gratitude with all good citizens, and the conduct of the Executive deserved high commendation. The majority also declined to express any censure on self-created societies, referred to in the speech, as the causes, or occasions of dangerous opposition to government. These societies were then in great favor with the ardent friends of the French Revolution ; and it was not till the fall of Robespierre, the chief of a violent and sanguinary faction, in that country, that the Jacobin Clubs fell into discredit both in France and in the United States. Here, as there, their influence had well nigh overturned the government, and opened the flood-gates of misrule, of cruelties, and outrages, which would disgrace the most barbarous nations. In rejecting, by a small majority, an amendment proposed to the reported answer to the speech of the President, the House also refused to give its sanction to his conduct towards England and France, and especially as to the embassy to the former, under Mr. Jay.

While several important measures of the President were unnoticed, or referred to with implied disapprobation, by the House of Representatives, they professed a readiness to favor any practicable plan for the reduction of the national debt. But the difficulty was perceived, by both parties, of an efficient system, without an increase of imposts or a direct tax, both of which would probably excite new complaints and opposition. Direct taxes are always unpopular, while those collected imperceptibly by way of duty on imported goods, are voluntary, and generally paid with little discontent. The plan of a direct tax, was not approved, and it was deemed impolitic to increase the excise. Nothing therefore presented for an augmentation of the revenue, but an addition to the duties on foreign manufactures and products. And these were already very high, having been augmented after the first Act for that purpose, passed in 1789. The bill, introduced into the House, for the purpose above mentioned, though warmly, and for a long time opposed, was passed, with some modification; which provided however, for a duty on sugars refined, and tobacco manufactured, in the United States.

The opposition to the policy and measures of the administration, which had been gathering strength for some time, now became so powerful, as on several occasions, to decide the vote, in the House of Representatives, against the plans recommended by the President. Neither his patriotism, nor his love of civil liberty, could indeed be doubted; but the wisdom and expediency of his public conduct, relating

to some highly important subjects, were called in question. But it was very evident, that party feelings and prejudices had too much influence with those who condemned the measures of the Executive. After the excitement of the day, when men were governed more by their feelings than their reason, the wisdom of the President's conduct was more fully approved and admired. The suppression of the insurrection, growing out of an opposition to the excise laws, by the militia, after great forbearance and repeated attempts to dissuade the people from such dangerous combinations, was seen to have been indispensable to the welfare of the Union. And the measures pursued by the administration, for maintaining a neutral position, as to the two belligerent nations of Europe, and for averting war with either, were allowed to have been the most proper and effectual, both for the honor and the commercial prosperity of the United States. The firmness of the President prevented hostilities with the great maritime power of England, and saved the country from an alliance offensive and defensive with revolutionary France, which, at that period of anarchy and misrule, would have been fatal to the peace and prosperity of the country. In reply to the speech of the President, at this time, (Nov. 1794,) and in the debates on subjects suggested to their consideration, the language of members was almost invariably respectful towards him; but his measures were attacked, by severe and often bitter censures on the Secretary of the Treasury, who it was pretended originated them, and was supposed to have undue influence over the mind of the Chief Magistrate. The talents and public services of the Secretary were so eminent, that the discernment of the President could but highly appreciate them; but he had too much self-respect, as well as practical wisdom, to be under an undue influence from any man. With a great degree of sensibility and strong feelings of personal honor, with health much impaired by incessant devotion to public duties, and with the desire of attending more closely to his own private business, for the benefit of his family, Mr. Hamilton retired from the treasury department, on the first of January, 1795; having some months before, given private notice to the President, of his wish to resign.

The resignation of General Knox, who was the first Secretary of War, under the federal government, soon followed. He too, had received the reproaches and censures of the opposition, on the pretence of extravagance in the expenditures of public monies, and of indulging in theories

inconsistent with that rigid economy which was necessary in the republic, already burthened by a heavy debt. Perhaps his views were less practical than those of Hamilton, but his probity, either as a public or private character, was never doubted, and his love of republican liberty was most sincere and ardent. During the war of the Revolution, he had acted a useful and conspicuous part; and by his liberal and magnanimous disposition had won the esteem and affection of General Washington. And such was his confidence and admiration towards that illustrious citizen, that, instead of officiously advising him, except when his opinion was expressly desired, he was always ready to follow the course pointed out by his chief.*

If the mission of Mr. Jay, to the British Court, to preserve peace with that nation, and to agree on a commercial intercourse between that country and the United States, was opposed as being humiliating on the part of the federal government, the treaty, to which he assented, and which the President submitted to the Senate for their approval, was even more generally condemned as dishonorable to the character of the nation, and highly unfavorable to its interests. No express provision was made for preventing impressments from American merchant vessels, which had been a subject of great and just complaint; the obligation to pay the debts due to the refugees, to which some States had objected, was renewed and recognized; and great restrictions were laid on the trade of the United States to ports in the British West Indies, which it was believed would operate very injuriously on the navigation and commerce of the country. Only American vessels, under one hundred

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

* In his letter of resignation, the Secretary of War, observed," In whatever situation I shall be, I shall recollect your confidence and kindness with all the fervor and purity of affection, of which a grateful heart is susceptible.” The President said, in reply, on receiving his resignation,–“ I cannot suffer you to close your public life, without uniting to the satisfaction which must arise in your own mind from conscious rectitude, assurances of my most perfect persuasion that you have deserved well of your country.” Col. T. Pickering, a very distinguished officer in the Revolutionary war, and at the time, Postmaster-General, was appointed Secretary of War, in the place of General Knox, in 1795; and Oliver Wolcott, of Connecticut, was placed at the head of the Treasury department. Edmund Randolph, sometime Attorney-General, had succeeded Mr. Jefferson as Secretary of State, the year before, and William Bradford, of Pennsylvania, was appointed his successor. Near the close of 1795, Mr. Pickering was advanced to the office of Secretary of State, on the resignation of Mr. Randolph, who found it proper to withdraw from the Cabinet, on account of the detection of his confidential correspondence with the French Minister, which the President highly disapproved. Mr. Mc Henry of Maryland, was also then made Secretary of War.

[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »