The Life of George Washington
Chapter Twelve — President Washington
Events which had taken place before the inauguration of Washington, embarrassed his negotiations for the adjustments of the political relations between the United States and Spain.
In the year 1779, Mr. Jay had been appointed by the old Congress to make a treaty with the Catholic Majesty; but his best endeavours for more than two years were ineffectual. In a fit of despondence, while the revolutionary war was pressing, he had been authorized to agree "to relinquish, and in future forbear to use the navigation of the river Mississippi, from the point where it leaves the United States, down to the ocean."
After the war was ended, a majority of Congress had agreed to barter away for twenty-five years, their claim to this navigation. A long and intricate negotiation between Mr. Gardoqui, the Minister of his Catholic Majesty, and the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, had taken place at New-York, in the interval between the establishment of peace and of the new constitution of the United States; but was rendered abortive from the inflexible adherence of Mr. Gardoqui to the exclusion of the citizens of the United States from navigating the Mississippi below their southern boundary.
This unyielding disposition of Spain, the inability of the United States to assert their claims to the navigation of this river, and especially the facility which the old Congress had shown to recede from it for a term of years, had soured the minds of the western settlers. Their impatience transported them so far beyond the bounds of policy, that they sometimes dropped hints of separating from the Atlantic States, and attaching themselves to the Spaniards.
In this critical state of things, the President found abundant exercise for all his prudence. The western inhabitants were, in fact, thwarting his views in their favor, and encouraging Spain to persist in refusing that free navigation, which was so ardently desired both by the President and the people. The adherence of Spain to the exclusive use of the lower Mississippi, and the impolitic discontents of the western inhabitants, were not the only embarrassments of Washington, in negotiating with the court of Madrid.
In 1793, four Frenchmen left Philadelphia, empowered by Mr. Genet, the Minister of the French Republic, to prepare an expedition in Kentucky against New-Orleans. Spain, then at war with France, was at peace with the United States. Washington was officially bound to interpose his authority to prevent the raising of an armed force from among his fellow-citizens to commit hostilities on a peaceable neighboring power. Orders were accordingly given to the civil authority in Kentucky, to use all legal means to prevent this expedition; but the execution of these orders was so languid, that it became necessary to call in the aid of the regular army. Gen. Wayne was ordered to establish a military post at Fort Massac on the Ohio, for the purpose of forcibly stopping any body of armed men, who, in opposition to remonstrances, should persist in going down that river.
Many of high-spirited Kentuckians were so exasperated against the Spaniards, as to be very willing to second the views of the French Minister, and under his auspices to attack New-Orleans. The navigation of the Mississippi was so necessary for conveying to proper markets the surplusage of their luxuriant soil, that to gain this privilege, others were willing to receive it from the hands of the Spaniards at the price of renouncing all political connexion with the United States.
While these opposite modes of seeking a remedy for the same evil were pursuing by persons of different temperaments, a remonstrance from the inhabitants of Kentucky were presented to Washington and Congress. This demanded the use of the Mississippi as a natural right, and at the same time charged the government with being under the influence of a local policy, which had prevented all serious efforts for the acquisition of a right which was essential to the prosperity of the western people. It spoke the language of an injured people, irritated by the mal-administration of their public servants; and hinted the probability of a dismemberment of the union, if their natural rights were not vindicated by government. To appease these discontents; to restrain the French from making war on the Spaniards with a force raised and embodied in the United States; and at the same time, by fair negotiation, to obtain the free use of the Mississippi from the court of Madrid, was the task assigned to Washington.
Difficult and delicate as it was, the whole was accomplished. Anterior to the receipt of the Kentucky remonstrance, the President, well knowing the discontents of the interior people, and that the publication of them would obstruct his views, had directed the Secretary of State to give assurances to the Governor of Kentucky, that every exertion was making to obtain for the western people the free navigation they so much desired. The strong arm of government was successfully exerted to frustrate the expedition projected by the French Minister against New Orleans; and, while these matters were pending, Major Thomas Pinckney was appointed Envoy Extraordinary to the court of Madrid; and in the year 1795, he concluded a treaty with his Catholic Majesty, in which the claims of the United States on the subject of boundary, and the navigation of the Mississippi, were fully conceded.
By these events, the discontents of the western people were done away. Tranquillity was restored between the Atlantic and western states; and all points in controversy between the United States and Spain were satisfactorily adjusted. The most important of these, the free navigation of the Mississippi, had been the subject of discussion in the hands of different negotiators, for almost the whole of the immediately preceding fifteen years.
Great were the difficulties Washington had to encounter in amicably settling all matters with Spain; but much greater stood in the way of a peaceable adjustment of various grounds of controversy between the United States and Great-Britain.
Each of these two nations charged the other with a breach of the treaty of peace, in 1783, and each supported the charge against the other, with more solid arguments than either alleged in their own defence.
The peace terminated the calamities of the war, but was far from terminating the resentments which were excited by it. Many in the United States believed that Great-Britain was their natural enemy, and that her views of subjecting the United States to her empire, were only for the present suspended. Soon after the peace, Mr. John Adams had been deputed by the old Congress to negotiate a treaty between the United States and Great-Britain; but the latter declined to meet this advance of the former. While he urged on the court of Great-Britain, the necessity they were under by the late treaty to evacuate their posts on the south side of the lakes of Canada, they retorted that some of the states had, in violation of the same treaty, passed laws interposing legal impediments to the recovery of debts due to British subjects.
Washington's love of country was not weakened by partiality to his country. In a letter to a member of Congress, he observed---
"It was impolitic and unfortunate, if not unjust, in those states to pass laws, which, by fair construction, might be considered as infractions of the treaty of peace. It is good policy at all times, to place one's adversary in the wrong. Had we observed good faith, and the western posts had been withheld from us by Great-Britain, we might have appealed to God and man for justice.
"What a misfortune,"
said he, in another letter,
"that the British should have so well grounded a pretext for their palpable infractions; and what a disgraceful part, out of the choice of difficulties before us, are we to act!'
In the first years of Washington's presidency, he took informal measures to sound the British cabinet, and to ascertain its views respecting the United States. To Mr. Gouverneur Morris, who had been carried by private business to Europe, this negotiation was entrusted. He conducted it with ability; but found no disposition in the court of Great-Britain to accede to the wishes of the United States. In about two years more, when the stability and energy of the as administered by Washington became a matter of public notoriety, the British, of their own motion, sent Mr. Hammond their first minister to the United States. This advance induced the President to nominate Mr. Thomas Pinckney as Minister Plenipotentiary to the court of Great-Britain.
About this time war commenced between France and Great-Britain. The correct, sound judgment of Washington instantly decided that a perfect neutrality was the right, the duty, and the interest of the United States, and of this he gave public notice by a proclamation, in April, 1793. Subsequent events have proved the wisdom of this measure, though it was then reprobated by many.
The war between the late enemies and friends of the United States, revived revolutionary feelings in the breasts of the citizens, and enlisted the strongest passions of human nature against the one, and in favour of the other. A wish for the success of France was almost universal; and many were willing to hazard the peace of their country, by taking an active part in the war in her favour. The proclamation was at variance with the feelings and the passions of a large portion of the citizens. To compel the observance of neutrality under these circumstances, was no easy matter. Hitherto Washington had the people with him; but in this case a large proportion was on the other side. His resolution was nevertheless unshaken; and at the risk of popularity he persisted in promoting the real good of his fellow-citizens, in opposition to their own mistaken wishes and views.
The tide of popular opinion ran as strongly against Britain as in favour of France. The former was accused of instigating the Indians to acts of hostility against the United States; of impressing their sailors; of illegally capturing their ships; and of stirring up the Algerines against them. The whole of this hostility was referred to a jealousy of the growing importance of the United States. Motions were made in Congress for sequestering debts due to British subjects; for entering into commercial hostility with Great-Britain, and even for interdicting all intercourse with her, till she pursued other measures with respect to the United States.
Every appearance portended immediate war between the two countries. The passionate admirers of France wished for it; while others, more attached to British systems, dreaded a war with Great-Britain, as being likely to throw the United States into the arms of France.
In this state of things, when war seemed inevitable, the President composed the troubled scene by nominating John Jay, in April 1794, Envoy Extraordinary to the court of London. By this measure a truce was obtained, and that finally ended in an adjustment of the points in controversy between the two countries. The exercise of the constitutional right of the President to negotiate, virtually suspended all hostile legislative measures; for these could not with delicacy or propriety be urged, while the executive was in the act of treating for an amicable adjustment of differences.
A treaty between the United States and Great-Britain was the result of this mission. This was pronounced by Mr. Jay, "to be the best that was attainable, and which he believed it for the interest of the United States to accept." While the treaty was before the Senate for consideration, a member, contrary to the rules of that body, furnished an editor of a newspaper with a copy of it. This being published, operated like a spark of fire applied to combustible materials. The angry passions which for some short time had been smothered, broke out afresh. Some went so far as to pronounce the treaty a surrender of their power to their late enemy, Great-Britain, and a dereliction of their tried friend and ally, France. The more moderate said, that too much was given, and too little received.
Meetings of the people were held at Boston, New-York, Philadelphia, Charleston, and several other places, in which the treaty was pronounced to be unworthy of acceptance, and petitions were agreed upon and forwarded to the President, urging him to refuse his signature to the obnoxious instrument.
These agitations furnished matter for serious reflection to the President, but they did not affect his conduct, though they induced a reiterated examination of the subject. In a private letter to a friend, after reciting the importance of the crisis, he added--
"There is but one straight course, and that is to seek truth and to pursue it steadily."
It is probable that he had early made up his mind to ratify the treaty as better than none, and infinitely better than war; but regretted that it was so generally disliked, and considered by many as made with a design to oppress the French Republic. Under the weight of his high responsibility, he consoled himself, "that in time when passion shall have yielded to reason, the current may possibly turn." Peace with all the world was his policy, where it could be preserved with honour. War he considered as an evil of such magnitude, as never to be entered upon without the most imperious necessity.
The mission of Mr. Jay was his last effort for the preservation of peace with Great-Britain. The rejection of the treaty which resulted from this mission, he considered as the harbinger of war; for negotiation having failed to redress grievances, no alternative but war was left. By this prudent conduct, the rising states were preserved in peace, but the bickerings of the citizens among themselves, and their animosities against Great-Britain, still continued.
The popularity of the President for the present was diminished; but on this he had counted. In a letter to Gen. Knox, he observes--
"Next to a conscientious discharge of my public duties, to carry along with me the approbation of my constituents, would be the highest gratification of which my mind is susceptible. But the latter being secondary, I cannot make the former yield to it, unless come criterion more infallible than partial, (if they are not party,) meetings, can be discovered as the touchstone of public sentiment. If any person on earth could, or the Great Power above would erect the standard of infallibility in political opinions, no being that inhabits this terrestrial globe, would resort to it with more eagerness than myself, so long as I remain a servant of the public. But as I have hitherto found no better guide than upright intentions, and close investigation, I shall adhere to them while I keep the watch."
After the treaty was duly ratified, an attempt was made to render it a dead letter, by refusing the appropriations of money necessary to carry it into effect. Preparatory to this, a motion was made for the adoption of a resolution to request the President to lay before the House of Representatives a copy of his instructions to Mr. Jay, together with the correspondence and other documents relative to the treaty with Great-Britain.
This involved a new question, where the treaty making power was constitutionally lodged? The debate was animated and vehement. Appeals were made both to reason and passion. After a discussion of more than twenty days, the motion was carried in the affirmative by a majority of 25 votes. When the resolution was presented to the President, he relied~A^3
"That he would take to consider it."
His situation was peculiarly delicate; the passions of the people were strongly excited against the treaty; the popularity of the demand being solely for information; the large majority by which the vote was carried; the suspicions that would probably attach in case of refusal, that circumstances had occurred in the course of the negotiation which the President was afraid to publish, added to other weighty considerations, would have induced minds of an ordinary texture, to yield to the request.
With Washington, popularity was only a secondary object. To follow the path of duty and the public good was a primary one. He had sworn to "preserve, protect and defend the constitution." In his opinion the treaty making power was exclusively given by the people in convention to the executive, and that the public good required that it should be so exercised. Under the influence of these solemn obligations, he returned the following answer to the resolution which had been presented to him.
Gentlemen of the House of Representatives,
"With the utmost attention I have considered your resolution of the 24th inst. requesting me to lay before your house a copy of the instructions to the minister of the United States, who negotiated the treaty with the king of Great-Britain, together with the correspondence and other documents relative to that treaty, excepting such of the said papers as any the existing negotiation may render improper to be disclosed.
"In deliberating upon this subject, it was impossible for me to lose sight of the principle which some have avowed in its discussion, or to avoid extending my views to the consequences which must flow from the admission of that principle.
"I trust that no part of my conduct has ever indicated a disposition to withhold any information which the constitution has enjoined it upon the President as a duty to give, or which could be required of him by either house of Congress as a right; and with truth I affirm, that it has been, as it will continue to be, while I have the honour to preside in the government, my constant endeavour to harmonize with the other branches thereof, so far as the trust delegated to me by the people of the United States, and my sense of the obligation it imposes, "to preserve, protect, and defend the constitution," will permit.
"The nature of foreign negotiations requires caution, and their success must often depend on secrecy; and even when brought to a conclusion, a full disclosure of all the measures, demands, or eventual concessions, which may have been proposed or contemplated, would be extremely impolitic; for this might have a pernicious influence on future negotiations, or produce immediate inconveniences, perhaps danger and mischief, to other persons. The necessity of such caution and secrecy was one cogent reason for vesting the power of making treaties in the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, the principle on which that body was formed confining it to a small number of members.
"To admit then a right in the House of Representatives to demand, and to have as a matter of course, with all the papers respecting a negotiation with a foreign power, would be to establish a dangerous precedent.
"It does not occur that the inspection of the papers asked for, can be relative to any purpose under the cognizance of the House of Representatives, except that of an impeachment, which the resolution has not expressed. I repeat that I have no disposition to withhold any information which the duty of my station will permit, or the public good shall require, to be disclosed; and in fact all the papers affecting the negotiation with Great-Britain were laid before the Senate when the treaty itself was communicated for their consideration and advice.
"The course which the debate has taken on the resolution of the house, leads to some observations on the mode of making treaties under the constitution of the United States.
"Having been a member of the general convention, and knowing the principles on which the constitution was formed, I have ever entertained but one opinion upon this subject; and from the first establishment of the government to this moment, my conduct has exemplified that opinion-- That the power of making treaties is exclusively vested in the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur; and that every treaty so made and promulgated, thenceforward becomes the law of the land.
"It is thus that the treaty-making power has been understood by foreign nations; and in all the treaties made with them we have declared, and they have believed, that when ratified by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, they become obligatory. In this construction of the constitution, every House of Representatives has heretofore acquiesced, and, until the present time, not a doubt or suspicion has appeared to my knowledge that this construction was not the true one. Nay, they have more than acquiesced; for until now, without controverting the obligation of such treaties, they have made all the requisite provisions for carrying them into effect.
"There is also reason to believe that this construction agrees with the opinions entertained by the state conventions, when they were deliberating on the constitution, especially by those who objected to it; because there was not required in commercial treaties the consent of two-thirds of the whole number of the members of the Senate, instead of two-thirds of the Senators present; and because in treaties respecting territorial and certain other rights and claims, the concurrence of three-fourths of the whole number of the members of both houses respectively was not made necessary.
"It is a fact declared by the general convention, and universally understood, that the constitution of the United States was the result of a spirit of amity and mutual concession; and it well known that under this influence, the smaller states were admitted to an equal representation in the Senate with the larger states, and that this branch of the government was invested with great powers; for on the equal participation of those powers, the sovereignty and political safety of the smaller states were deemed essentially to depend.
"If other proofs than these, and the plain letter of the constitution itself, be necessary to ascertain the point under consideration, they may be found in the journals of the general convention, which I have deposited in the office of the department of state. In these journals it will appear that a proposition was made 'that no treaty should be binding on the United States which was not ratified by a law;' and that the proposition was explicitly rejected.
"As therefore it is perfectly clear to my understanding, that the assent of the House of Representatives is not necessary to the validity of a treaty; as the treaty with Great-Britain exhibits in itself all the objects requiring legislative provision, and on these the papers called for can throw no light; and as it is essential to the due administration of the government, that the boundaries fixed by the constitution between the different departments should be preserved~A^3a just regard to the constitution and to the duty of my office, under all the circumstances of this case, forbid a compliance with your request."
Though the call for papers was unsuccessful, the favourers of the resolution for that purpose opposed the appropriations necessary to carry the treaty into effect; but, from the firmness of the President, the ground was altered. The treaty was ratified, and proclaimed to the public as constitutionally obligatory on the citizens. To refuse appropriations for carrying it into effect, would not only incur the high responsibility of breaking the public faith, but make a schism in the government between the executive and legislative departments.
After long and vehement debates, in which argument and passion were both resorted to, with the view to exposing the merits and demerits of the treaty, the resolution for bringing in the laws necessary to carry it into effect, was carried by a majority of three. Though in this discussion Washington had no direct agency, yet the final result in favour of the treaty was the consequence of the measures he had previously adopted. For having ratified the treaty and published it to the world as the law of the land, and having in his answer to the request of the House of Representatives, proved that he had a constitutional right so to do, could not be withheld without hazarding the most serious consequences.
The treaty which was thus carried into operation, produced more good and less evil than was apprehended. It compromised ancient differences, produced amicable dispositions, and a friendly intercourse. It brought round a peaceable surrender of the British posts, and compensation for American vessels illegally captured. Though it gave up some favourite principles, and some of its articles relative to commerce were deemed unequal, yet from Britain, as a great naval power holding valuable colonies and foreign possessions, nothing better, either with or without treaty, could have been obtained.
After the lapse of ten years has cooled the minds both of the friends and enemies of the treaty, most men will acknowledge that the measures adopted by Washington with respect to it were founded in wisdom; proceeded from the purest patriotism; were carried through with uncommon firmness; and finally eventuated in advancing the interests of the country.
Thorny and difficult as was the line of policy proper to be pursued by Washington with respect to Britain, it was much more so in regard to France. The revolution in France, and the establishment of the constitution of the United States, were nearly contemporary events. Till about the year 1793, perfect harmony subsisted between the two countries; but from the commencement of the war between France and England, the greatest address was requisite to prevent the United States from being involved in war with one or the other, and sometimes with both. Good will to France, and hatred to Britain, which had prevailed more or loess from the peace of 1783, revived with a great increase of force on the breaking out of war between the two countries.
These dispositions were greatly increased by the arrival of Mr. Genet, the first Minister Plenipotentiary from the republic of France to the United States. He landed April 8th, 1793, at Charleston, S.C. the contiguity of which to the West-Indies, fitted it to be a convenient resort for privateers. By the Governor of the state, Wm. Moultrie, and the citizens, he was received with ardour approaching to enthusiasm. During his stay, which was for several days, he received unequivocal proofs of the warmest attachment to his person, his country, and its cause.
Encouraged by these evidences of the good wishes of the people for the success of the French revolution, he undertook to authorize the fitting and arming of vessels in that port, enlisting men, and giving commissions to vessels to cruise and commit hostilities on nations with whom the United States were at peace. The captures made by these cruisers were to be tried, condemned and sold under the authority of Genet, who had not yet been recognized as a public Minister by the government.
Similar marks of enthusiastic attachment were lavished on Genet as he passed through the country between Charleston and Philadelphia. At Gray's ferry, over the Schuylkill, he was met by crowds who flocked to do honour to the first ambassador of a republican allied nation. On the day after his arrival in Philadelphia, he received addresses from societies and the inhabitants, who expressed their gratitude for the aids furnished by the French nation to the United States in their late struggle for liberty and independence, and unbounded exultation at the success of the French arms. Genet's answers to these addresses were well calculated to preserve the idea of a complete fraternity between the two nations, and that their interests were the same.
After Genet had been thus accredited by the citizens of Philadelphia, he was presented to the President, and received with expressions of a sincere and cordial regard for his nation. In the conversations which took place on the occasion, Mr. Genet gave the most explicit assurances that France did not wish to engage the United States in the war between his country and Great-Britain.
While Mr. Genet was receiving these flattering marks of attention from the people, the British minister preferred a long catalogue of complaints against his proceedings at Charleston. This was founded on the acts already mentioned, which were calculated to make the United States instruments of hostility in the hands of France, against those with whom she was at war. These were further aggravated by actual hostilities in the territories of the United States. The ship Grange, a British vessel, was captured by the French frigate l'Ambuscade, within the Capes of the Delaware, while on her way from Philadelphia to the ocean. Of this ship, and of other illegal prizes which were in the power of the American government, the British minister demanded restitution.
The cabinet council of Washington was unanimous that every independent nation was exclusively sovereign in its own territories, and that the proceedings complained of were unwarranted usurpations of sovereignty, and violations of neutrality; and therefore must in future be prevented. It was also agreed that the efficacy of the laws should be tried against those citizens of the United States who had joined in the offences complained of. The restitution of the Grange was also agreed to; but on the propriety of enforcing the restitution of prizes made on the high seas, there was a diversity of sentiment, the Secretaries of the Treasury and War being for it, and the Secretary of State and the Attorney General against it.
The principles on which a concurrence of sentiment had taken place being considered as settles, the Secretary of State was desired to communicate them to the Ministers of France and of Britain; and circular letters were written to the Governors of the several states, requiring them to co-operate with force, if necessary, to execute the rules which had been agreed upon.
Mr. Genet was highly dissatisfied with these determinations, and considered them as subversive of the treaty between the United States and France. His representations induced a re-consideration of the subject; but on the most dispassionate review of it, no reason appeared for an alteration of any part of the system. The minister of France was further informed that, in the opinion of the President, the vessels which had been illegally equipped, should depart from the ports of the United States.
Mr. Genet, adhering to his own construction of the treaty between France and the United States, would not acquiesce in those decisions of the government. Intoxicated with the flattering attentions he had received, and ignorant of the firmness of the executive, he seems to have expected that the popularity of his nation and its cause, would enable him to undermine the executive, or render it subservient to his views.
About this time, two citizens of the United States who had been engaged in Charleston by Mr. Genet, to cruise in the service of France, were arrested by the civil authority, in pursuance of the determination formed by government to prosecute persons who had offended against the laws. Mr. Genet demanded their release as French citizens, in the most extraordinary terms. This was refused; but on trial they were acquitted by the verdict of a jury.
The Minister of the French Republic was encouraged to this line of opposition, by a belief that the sentiments of the people were in his favour. So extravagant was their enthusiastic devotedness to France; so acrimonious were their expressions against all the powers at war with the new republic, that a person less sanguine than Mr. Genet might have cherished the hope of being able to succeed so far with the people, as, with their support, ultimately to triumph over the opposition he experienced. At civic festivals, the ensigns of France were displayed in union with those of America; at these the cap of liberty passed from head to head, and toasts were given expressive of the fraternity of the two nations
The proclamation of neutrality was treated as a royal edict, which demonstrated the disposition of the government to break its connexions with France, and dissolve the friendship which united the people of the two republics. The scenes of the revolutionary war were brought into view; the effects of British hostility against the United States, and of French aids both in men and money in their favour, were painted in glowing colours. The enmity of Britain to the United States was represented as continuing undiminished; and in proof of it their detention of the western posts, and their exciting from these stations the neighbouring Indians to make war on the frontier settlers, were urged with great vehemence, and contrasted with the amicable dispositions professed by the French republic.
It was indignantly asked, should a friend and an enemy be treated with equal favour? By declamations of this kind daily issuing from the press, the public mind was so inflamed against the executive, that Genet, calculating on the partialities of the people, openly insulted the government; and, adhering to his own construction of the treaty, that he had a right to do as he had done, threatened to appeal to the sovereign people against their President.
To preserve neutrality in such a crisis, was no easy matter. Washington, adhering to the principles avowed in his late proclamation, and embodied in the declaration of independence, "that the United States would hold all mankind enemies in war and friends in peace," exerted all his authority and influence to keep the balance even between the belligerents.
It was at length resolved by Washington to instruct Mr. Morris, the Minister of the United States at Paris, to request the recall of Mr. Genet; and that Mr. Morris should be furnished with all the necessary documents to evince the propriety of the request. What was asked was granted; and Mr. Genet's conduct was disapproved by his government. Mr. Fauchet was appointed his successor, who was succeeded by Mr. Adet. The latter brought with him the colours of France, which he was directed to present to the United States. To answer the animated speech of Mr. Adet on his presenting the colours, required address — The occasion required something affectionate and complimentary to the French nation; and yet the guarded policy of Washington forbade the utterance of any sentiments which might be improper in the chief magistrate of a neutral country, when addressing the representative of one of the belligerent powers.
Impressed with this double view, the President made the following reply:
"Born, sir, in a land of liberty; having early learned its value; having engaged in a perilous conflict to defend it; having, in a word, devoted the best years of my life to secure its permanent establishment in my own country; my anxious recollections; my sympathetic feelings; and my best wishes, are irresistibly attracted, whensoever, in any country, I see an oppressed nation unfurl the banners of freedom.
"But above all, the events of the French revolution have produced the deepest solicitude, as well as the highest admiration. To call your nation brave, were to pronounce but common praise. Wonderful people! Ages to come will read with astonishment the history of your brilliant exploits. I rejoice that the period of your toils and of your immense sacrifices is approaching. I rejoice that the interesting revolutionary movements of so many years have issued have issued in the formation of a constitution designed to give permanency to the great object for which you have contended. I rejoice that liberty, which you have so long embraced with enthusiasm; liberty, of which you have been the invincible defenders, now finds an asylum in the bosom of a regularly organized government; a government, which, being formed to secure the happiness of the French people, corresponds with the ardent wishes of my heart, while it gratifies the pride of every citizen of the United States by its resemblance to their own. On these glorious events, accept, sir, my sincere congratulations.
"In delivering to you these sentiments, I express not my own feelings only, but those of my fellow-citizens, in relation to the commencement, the progress, and the issue, of the French revolution; and they will certainly join with me in purest wishes to the Supreme Being, that the citizens of our sister Republic, our magnanimous allies, may soon enjoy in peace that liberty which they have purchased at so great a price, and all the happiness that liberty can bestow.
"I receive, sir, with lively sensibility, the symbol of the triumphs and of the infranchisements of your nation, the Colours of France, which you have now presented to the United States. The transaction will be announced to Congress, and the colours will be deposited with the archives of the United States, which are at once the evidence and the memorials of their freedom and independence. May these be perpetual! And may the friendship of the two republics be commensurate with their existence!"
The successors of Genet continued to tread in his steps, but with less violence. They made frequent complaints of particular cases of hardship which grew out of the war, and out of the rules which had been established by the executive with regard to ships of war, cruisers, and their prizes. They complained particularly that in the treaty with Great-Britain, the principle of "free ships making free goods," was given up; and urged the injustice, while French cruisers were restrained by treaty from taking English goods out of American bottoms, that English cruisers should be liberated from the same restraint.
In vain did the executive show a willingness to release France from the pressure of a situation in which she had voluntarily placed herself. Private explanations were made, that neither the late treaty made with Britain, nor the arrangements growing out of it, furnished any real cause of complaint to France. With the same conciliatory view, Washington appointed Gen. Pinckney Minister Plenipotentiary to the French republic, "to maintain that good understanding, which, from the commencement of the alliance, had subsisted between the two nations, and to efface unfavourable impressions, banish suspicion, and restore that cordiality which was at once the evidence and pledge of a friendly union."
The Directory having inspected his letter of credence, announced their haughty determination, "not to receive another Minister from the United States, until after a redress of grievances demanded of the American government, which the French republic had a right to expect from it." This was followed by a written mandate to Gen. Pinckney, to quit the territories of the republic. To complete the system of hostility, American vessels, wherever found, were captured by French cruisers.
From this mission Washington expected an adjustment of all points in dispute between France and the United States. In his opinion, the failure of it was owing to a belief that the American people were in unison with France, and in opposition to their own government; and that high-toned measures on the part of France, would induce a change of rulers in the United States.
Before the result of the mission was known, Washington had at his own request ceased to be President. Having made peace with the Indians, and adjusted all matters in dispute with both Spain and Britain, and hoping that an accommodation would soon take place with France, after eight years service in the high office of President, at the commencement of which period he found the United States in a miserable state of depression, and at its conclusion, left them advancing with gigantic steps in agriculture, commerce, wealth, credit, and reputation, and being in the sixty-sixth year of his age; he announced his intention of declining a re-election, in full time for the people to make up their mind in the choice of his successor. This was done in an address to the people of the United States in the following words:
Chapter Twelve Part 2 of The Life of Washington