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CHAPTER XIII FRENCH POLITICS
If any proof were wanting of how completely Madison had gone over to the opposition, he gave it in the memorable attack upon the secretary of the treasury in the spring of 1793, within four days of the close of the second session of the Second Congress. It was hoped by that proceeding to overwhelm Hamilton with disgrace, and that the President would feel himself obliged to expel him from the cabinet. When the resolutions with this aim were offered, a member said that delicacy, decency, and every rule of justice had been violated; "a more unhandsome proceeding he had never seen in Congress;" he might have remained a member to this day, and, save for the attempts in our time to expel John Quincy Adams and Joshua R. Giddings, not have changed his opinion.

In the course of the preceding year Hamilton, under various signatures, had met his opponents in the newspapers. But it was a veil, not a visor, behind which he fought; for everybody knew from whom came the vigorous blows that he dealt about him right and left. It was a boast always of Jefferson that he never condescended to newspaper[186] controversy; but it was pretty well understood that he himself did not enter upon that rather unsatisfactory mode of warfare because he preferred the safer method of fighting by proxy. Hamilton never was in doubt as to who was his real antagonist, and he aimed his blows over the heads of his petty assailants to where he knew they would hit home. They left bad bruises upon his colleague in the cabinet. Among other papers of the time, though not a newspaper article, was an official letter to the President, in which Hamilton defended his principles and his measures. Early in 1792 the President, longing to escape the toils of public life and to spend the rest of his days in tranquillity, had consulted Madison and his two secretaries, Jefferson and Hamilton, upon the propriety of his declining a re?lection. He soon changed his mind, influenced, perhaps, as much by the dissensions, so evident in the expostulations of his friends, as by the expostulations themselves. He deprecated this open feud between his secretaries as a public misfortune, and sought, if he could not reconcile them, to silence it. That the Federalists were monarchists, as Jefferson and Madison never ceased asserting, he knew was not true, without the emphatic and indignant declarations of Hamilton, Adams, and other leading men of that party, when they condescended to notice a charge which they deemed so absurd that it was difficult to believe that anybody could make it in earnest. But, while he knew there was no real[187] danger from that quarter, he could not fail to see that the reverence and love in which he was held constituted a bond of unity, so long as he remained chief magistrate; and he may have felt that, should he retire, there was no other common tie strong enough at that moment to hold together a union, the possible dissolution of which was, both at the North and at the South, considered with calmness, sometimes with complacency, and, when party passion was at a red heat, even as a thing to be prayed for. At any rate, the President consented to take the advice of the counselors whom he had consulted; but in asking that advice he unwittingly aggravated the quarrel among them which caused him so much uneasiness.

Jefferson, in the arguments he set forth both in conversation and by letter to influence Washington's decision, dwelt upon the unhappy condition of public affairs. It was a storm which he himself meant to get out of by retiring to Monticello, though he thought it was Washington's duty to remain at the helm and keep an eye to windward. This unhappy condition of affairs, he said, had all come from the course pursued by the secretary of the treasury, and was the natural consequence of the acts of Congress in relation to the public debt, the Bank, excise, currency, and other important measures passed in accordance with the secretary's policy. Whether this policy was meant to destroy the union, subvert the republic, and establish a monarchy upon its ruins, at any rate[188] such must be the inevitable result of those mischievous measures. He urged this view of the subject with such pertinacity that Washington, either because he was impressed by so much earnestness, or because he was curious to know how the assertions could best be answered, sent them to Hamilton, with other objections of a similar character from other persons, and asked for a reply. No names were given, but it is not likely that Hamilton was at any loss in guessing where such strictures upon his administration of affairs came from. "I have not fortitude enough," he said in his answer, "always to hear with calmness calumnies which necessarily include me as a principal object in the measures censured, of the falsehood of which I have the most unqualified consciousness.... I acknowledge that I cannot be entirely patient under charges which impeach the integrity of my public motives or conduct. I feel that I merit them in no degree, and expressions of indignation sometimes escape me in spite of every effort to suppress them." There were only two men in the country whom he could have had in mind when he wrote such words as these. In all Washington's career there is nowhere a stronger proof of his strong will, self-reliance, and passionless impartiality than that he could stand between two such furnaces as Hamilton on one side and Jefferson and Madison on the other, both glowing at the intensest white heat, while he remained usually as calm and as unmoved as if breathing[189] the softest, balmiest, and gentlest airs of a day in June. But all this personal controversy in the public prints, and in the official intercourse of the cabinet, left on both sides an intense exasperation, which could not fail to have a controlling influence in the conduct of political parties. Whether Jefferson was conscious or not—and whatever his feeling was, Madison shared it with him—that in this paper warfare he was signally defeated, the attempt to ruin Hamilton by an attack upon him in Congress followed, if it was not the consequence of, the mortification of defeat.

In February, 1793, Mr. Giles, a representative from Virginia, offered a series of resolutions calling upon the President for certain information relating to the finances. They were a bold attack upon the secretary of the treasury, and, should it prove that they could not be satisfactorily answered, would convict him of mismanagement of the financial affairs of the government, of a disregard of law, of usurpation of power, and even of embezzlement of the public funds. Any reasonable ground for believing such charges to be well-founded would be quite sufficient to bring the secretary to trial by impeachment. There was probably little doubt at the moment as to whence this blow came; for though the hand might seem the hand of Esau, the voice was the voice of Jacob. Behind Giles was Madison; and behind Madison, of course, was Jefferson. Mr. John C. Hamilton, in his "History of the Republic," asserts that the resolutions were[190] still—when he wrote, twenty-five years ago—in the archives of the State Department at Washington, in Madison's handwriting; and he further declares that Giles assured Rufus King that Madison was their author.

Hamilton's reply, so far as any intentional wrong-doing was imputed to him, was conclusive. There had been technical violations of acts of Congress in one instance, but it was only to carry out the acts themselves. Congress had, three years before, passed two acts authorizing the negotiation of two loans, one for twelve million dollars for the discharge of the foreign debt, and another for two million dollars to be used at home. It had been convenient, and had conduced to the success of the negotiation, to offer in Holland to contract a loan for fourteen million dollars, without the unnecessary, and to foreigners probably the confusing, statement that the authority for borrowing that amount was derived from two separate acts of Congress. It was only in this borrowing of the money that there was any seeming disregard of the letter of the law. The loans and their purposes were kept entirely distinct in the accounts of the department. Other questions touching the management of these loans were so clearly and frankly explained that nothing but the captiousness of party could refuse to be satisfied. On one point—the charge of an alleged deficit—the opposition was absolutely silenced. The secretary indignantly explained that the sum—as anybody could have[191] known for the asking from any officer in the Treasury Department—which was made to appear as missing was in credits for customs bonds not yet due, and bills of exchange on Europe sold but not yet paid for.

Though there was enough of decency, or of prudence which took the place of decency, to drop the insinuation that the secretary had stolen what had never been in his possession, it was not so with the rest of the accusations. Only four days before Congress was to adjourn, Giles offered another set of resolutions. These assumed that the defiance of law and unwarranted assumption of power, which, at first, were only suggested by the inquiries, were now proved to be true by the explanations that had been given. The indictment, therefore, was made to include the verdict and the sentence; the criminal was accused, was to be found guilty, and condemned to capital punishment in one proceeding, without the privilege of trial, or a recognition of the right to be heard. The argument of the resolutions was, that certain acts were a violation of law; that the secretary had committed all those acts; and therefore it was the will of the House that the facts be reported to the President. The presumption obviously was, that the President would immediately dismiss from office a disgraced and faithless public servant. But the prosecution was an utter failure. The largest vote received for any of the resolutions was only fifteen; that on the others was[192] from seven to twelve, in a quorum of from fifty to sixty members. In the course of the debate Mr. Madison had said that "his colleague [Giles] had rendered a service highly valuable to the legislature, and no less important and acceptable to the public." The House showed by its votes how very far it was from agreeing with him. But Fisher Ames wrote about that time: "Madison is become a desperate party leader, and I am not sure of his stopping at any ordinary point of extremity." If it be really true that he instigated this attack upon Hamilton, and was the author of the resolutions, using Giles as his tool to get them before the House, Ames's reflection was not uncharitable.

It would not be just, however, to leave the impression that the hostility shown in this affair was purely personal. Both Jefferson and Madison had a hearty hatred for Hamilton which would have been greatly gratified could they have made it the plain duty of the President to put him out of the Treasury Department a dishonored and ruined man. But this particular outbreak of their enmity was intensified by their sincere and earnest enthusiasm for France. They were quite willing to bring Hamilton to grief at any time because he was Hamilton; they were more than ordinarily exasperated against him just now because in recent newspaper and other controversies he had altogether got the better of them; but in this particular instance they wanted to punish him[193] because of delay of payments in discharge of the indebtedness of the United States to France. This was the essential delinquency at which the Giles resolutions were pointed. The difficulty was, not that the secretary of the treasury was not careful enough of the public money, but that he was too careful. He insisted upon being quite certain, when paying off a public debt, that he was paying it to the right persons, and that no risk should be incurred of its being demanded a second time. He felt there was no such certainty about payments to France. The king was dethroned; but it was not wise, the secretary thought, to be hasty in recognizing revolutionary governments. It was a republic to-day; it might be a regency to-morrow; a monarchy again the third day. It was more prudent to await a reasonable period for the evidence of permanency on one side or the other. Those old enough to remember the late war of the rebellion know how important the maintenance of this doctrine was in regard to the recognition of the rebel confederacy by England and France.

But to all this Jefferson did not in the least agree; neither did Madison. They were in full, even passionate, sympathy with the men who brought Louis XVI. to the guillotine. Money, they knew, was needed, and it was a crime against liberty to delay payment when payment was due to the French government. With Hamilton the question was, not whether the revolutionists ought[194] to be, but whether they were, France. With Jefferson and Madison they were France, because they ought to be. Hesitation to acknowledge that the Revolution was the nation, they thought, could only come from an "Anglican party," the "enemies of France and of Liberty," who would lead the American people "into the arms and ultimately into the government of Great Britain,"—to use the terms in which Madison spoke, a little later, of the Federalists. Which of these men, in this regard at least, were the thoughtful and prudent statesmen, and which were doctrinaires, nobody now, probably, questions. The larger proportion of the people, however, were then carried away by the enthusiasm for the French revolutionists. It was so, no doubt, at first without much distinction of party; but it was inevitable, when the government should be called upon to take some decisive stand in relation to European politics, that the country should divide into two hostile camps; or, rather, that the two camps already existing should become more hostile to each other than ever. It is not necessary to assume that the mass of the people gave themselves up to any very hard thinking about the matter. For the most part they followed, as the way is with parties, the political leaders to whom they were already accustomed, never doubting that not to do so would be treacherous to the gratitude America owed to France, and to the cause of liberty and democracy, which, in the hands of the Frenchmen,[195] was hurling monarchs from their thrones—at least one monarch from his, and more, it was hoped, would follow. But when the revolution ran into the terrible excesses of a later stage, if any Federalists had wavered in their allegiance to their chiefs they soon returned, persuaded that the wild and bloody anarchy of Paris was not the road that led to the establishment of a wise and safe popular government.

There was no need now of pretexts for quarreling; real causes came fast enough. France declared war against England, and the United States had its part to play in this strife of giants. Its real interest was to keep out of trouble; and, if all were agreed on that point, it does not seem that there should have been much difficulty in saying so. "It behooves the government of this country," wrote Washington to Hamilton, "to use every means in its power to prevent the citizens thereof from embroiling us with either of those powers, by endeavoring to maintain a strict neutrality." It is difficult to conceive of a man being sincerely desirous of helping neither one side nor the other; of injuring neither one side nor the other; of maintaining, so far as help or harm could go, an attitude of absolute impartiality towards both,—it is difficult to conceive of such a man quarreling with the word "neutrality" as applied to his position. But Jefferson, nevertheless, quarreled with it; not frankly and directly as a thing he did not want, but captiously and[196] hypercritically objecting to the word to cover his dislike to the thing itself. "A declaration of neutrality," he said, "was a declaration that there should be no war, to which the Executive was not competent."

It was true that the Executive was not competent to declare that there should be no war; it was not true that the use of the word "neutrality" could have any such application to the future as to prevent Congress, when it should assemble, from declaring war should it see fit to do so. But meanwhile, Congress not being in session, and no exigency having arisen that made it desirable in the President's judgment to call an extra session, he, with the assent of the cabinet,—for Jefferson did not venture upon direct opposition,—issued a proclamation "to exhort and warn the citizens of the United States carefully to avoid all acts and proceedings whatsoever" that might interfere with "the duty and interest of the United States" to "adopt and pursue a conduct friendly and impartial towards the belligerent powers." The objectionable word was left out in deference to Mr. Jefferson, who, really preferring that there should be no proclamation at all, hoped to take the sting out of it by the omission of a phrase. It was the thing said, not the way of saying it, that the President insisted upon, as it was his duty to preserve the peace till the legislature should declare for war, and his inclination to preserve it altogether.

It can hardly be doubted that Jefferson and his[197] friends saw as plainly as the other party saw how perilous to the interests of the United States a foreign war would probably be. But, while professing a desire to avoid it, they were far more anxious, apparently, to give aid, moral as well as material, to France, with whose revolutionary struggles they sympathized so deeply, than they were to avoid offense to England, whom they hated and would gladly see crippled. Not to be an enemy of England they held was to be an enemy of France; and not of France merely, but of the "rights of man." They could not or would not comprehend any wisdom in moderation, any prudence in delay. It is curious to see how party animosity blinded even the best of them. The objection to the word "neutrality" was a mere quibble; for the proclamation called upon all good citizens to maintain at their peril that state which, in all dictionaries, neutrality is defined to be. Mr. Jefferson, in instructing as secretary of state the American ministers abroad as to the attitude assumed by the government, could find no better term than "a fair neutrality." The fact was, the Republican leaders wished to avoid taking any positive stand, partly because delay might be a help to France, and partly in obedience to the law of party politics, in opposition to the other side. They were not at first quite sure of their ground, and wanted to gain time. Mr. Madison seems to have waited about six weeks before he could venture upon a positive opinion as to the proclamation.[198] The newspapers helped him to a knowledge of party opinion, and party opinion helped him to make up his own. "Every 'Gazette' I see,"—he wrote in June, about eight weeks after the proclamation was published,—"every 'Gazette' I see (except that of the United States [Federalist]) exhibits a spirit of criticism on the Anglified complexion charged on the Executive politics.... The proclamation was, in truth, a most unfortunate error." A week before, he had been seemingly cautious even in writing to Jefferson. Then he had observed that newspaper criticisms aroused attention, and he had heard expressions of surprise "that the President should have declared the United States to be neutral in the unqualified terms used, when we were so notoriously and unequivocally under eventual engagements to defend the American possessions of France. I have heard it remarked, also, that the impartiality enjoined on the people was as little reconcilable with their moral obligations as the unconditional neutrality proclaimed by the government is with the express articles of the treaty." He adds: "I have been mortified that on these points I could offer no bona fide explanations that might be satisfactory." He was not in doubt long, however. Mr. Jefferson sent him within two or three weeks a series of papers by Hamilton, under the signature of "Pacificus," in defense of the proclamation, and urged him to reply. This Madison undertook to do at once, and in five papers, under the signature[199] of "Helvidius," he took up all the points in dispute.

The question relating to treaty obligations was the more serious. By the treaty of 1778 the United States had guaranteed "to his Most Christian Majesty the present possessions of the Crown of France in America." An attempt on the part of Great Britain to take any of the French West India Islands would involve the United States in the war. How, then, Mr. Madison's friends might well ask, as in the letter just quoted he said they did, could "the President declare the United States to be neutral in the unqualified terms used, when we were so notoriously and unequivocally under eventual engagements to defend the American possessions of France"? Hamilton's ground was that the treaty, by its terms, was "a defensive alliance," and therefore not binding in this case, inasmuch as the present war against England was offensive; and that, besides, the treaty was in suspension, as France herself was, in a sense, in suspension, having only a provisional government, the permanent and legitimate successor to which was uncertain. But an important point was gained, it was thought, in the decision to receive Genet as the French minister. Hamilton, still acting in accordance with that cautious policy which he thought to be, in such a crisis, the most judicious, questioned whether a minister from the provisional government in Paris should be recognized without reservations. Such an ambassador[200] might be followed presently by another accredited by a new power in the revolutionary progress. This would, at the least, be an awkward dilemma not to be recovered from without the loss of some dignity by the government of the United States. But this point also was yielded in deference to Jefferson, and much to his mortification the concession turned out to be before he was many weeks older.

"I anxiously wish," Madison wrote to Jefferson, "that the reception of Genet may testify what I believe to be the real affections of the people." He was amply gratified. From Charleston, where he landed, to Philadelphia, Genet was received with the warmest enthusiasm by all who sympathized with France, and by that larger number among Americans who are always ready to hurrah for anything or anybody that has caught the popular fancy. Madison watched his progress with great interest, and apparently with some misgivings. Writing again a few days later to Jefferson, he says that "the fiscal party in Alexandria was an overmatch for those who wished to testify the American sentiment." Indeed, he thinks it certain, he says in the same letter, "that Genet will be misled if he takes either the fashionable cant of the cities or the cold caution of the government for the sense of the public,"—falling himself, before he reaches the end of the sentence, into the cant of assuming neutrality in the government to be only a "mask" behind which to hide[201] its "secret Anglomany." But he was quite mistaken in supposing that Genet was likely to be misled, or led at all, by anybody. He was almost capable, as General Knox said, of declaring the United States a department of France, and of levying troops here to reduce the Americans to obedience. The man's conduct, if it had not been so outrageous, would have been ludicrous in its assumption of power, its disregard of the laws of the country, and its defiance of the government. Within three months of his arrival Jefferson himself was constrained to acknowledge that he had developed "a character and conduct so unexpected and so extraordinary as to place us in the most distressing dilemma, between our regard for his nation, which is constant and sincere, and a regard for our laws, the authority of which must be maintained; for the peace of our country, which the executive magistrate is charged to preserve; for its honor, offended in the person of that magistrate; and for its character, grossly traduced in the conversations and letters of this gentleman." Though this was in an official letter, it gave, no doubt, Jefferson's real opinion; for no man had more reason than he for resenting the conduct of the irrepressible Frenchman. Jefferson has been accused of too much familiarity with the French minister in private, and of tardiness in the discharge of his own duty as secretary where it was likely to clash with the other's schemes. Genet himself complained that he was thrown over by Jefferson[202] after receiving from him every encouragement. This is, of course, true, but not in the least discreditable to Jefferson. When Genet arrived in Philadelphia, he was, although he had already committed some illegal acts in Charleston, profuse in his promises of good behavior. The secretary of state had welcomed him as the representative of France and the Revolution, and naturally he meant to make the most he could out of him, for the sake of the Republican party, as well as for the sake of the sacred cause of "liberty, equality, and fraternity." But he soon saw that he was dealing with one who was a cross between a mountebank and a madman, as we learn from a letter of Madison to Jefferson, written within two months of Jefferson's first interview with Genet. "Your account of Genet," says the letter, "is dreadful. He must be brought right if possible. His folly will otherwise do mischief which no wisdom can repair."

The mischief dreaded was that the administration party would take advantage of the insolent and outrageous conduct of the French minister to show the folly of precipitancy, and to gain popularity and strength for itself. Madison soon writes to Jefferson to acquaint him with the reaction taking place in Virginia, "in the surprise and disgust of those who are attached to the French cause, and who viewed this minister as the instrument for cementing, instead of alienating, the two republics." He asserts that "the Anglican party[203] is busy, as you may suppose, in making the worst of everything, and in turning the public feelings against France and thence in favor of England." In a sense this must have been true. The "fiscals," the "Anglomanys," the "Anglican party," the "monarchists,"—which were Mr. Madison's pet names for his old friends,—were good enough politicians to take great satisfaction in keeping well stirred and in lively use the muddy waters into which their opponents had floundered. They were not, probably, careful always to remember that France was neither the better nor worse, neither the wiser nor the less wise, because one of the mad fanatics, bred of the Revolution, had found his way, unfortunately, to the United States as a minister plenipotentiary. But, on the other hand, it was not true that there was any "Anglican party," in the sense in which Madison used the term,—a party led by men who were "the enemies of France and of liberty, at work to lead the well-meaning from their honorable connection with those [the French people] into the arms and ultimately into the government of Great Britain." Washington said that he did not believe there were ten men in the United States, whose opinions deserved any respect, who would change the form of government to a monarchy. But if there were only ten men in the country whose opinions, in the estimate of Jefferson and Madison, were not worth much, Washington was among them. The affection and reverence, with which he was regarded by[204] the people, they would have been glad to appeal to on behalf of their own party; but it is easy to read between the lines in Jefferson's "Ana," and in his and Madison's correspondence, that they looked upon the President as the dupe of his secretary of the treasury. Not that they were ever wanting in terms of respect and even of veneration for the President, but the tone was often one of pitiful regret almost akin to contempt.

"I am extremely afraid," Madison wrote to Jefferson, "that the President may not be sufficiently aware of the snares that may be laid for his good intentions by men whose politics at bottom are very different from his own." Again he says, a few days later: "I regret extremely the position into which the President has been thrown. The unpopular cause of Anglomany is openly laying claim to him. His enemies, masking themselves under the popular cause of France, are playing off the most tremendous batteries on him.... It is mortifying to the real friends of the President that his fame and his influence should have anything to apprehend from the success of liberty in another country, since he owes his pre?minence to the success of it in his own. If France triumphs, the ill-fated proclamation will be a millstone, which would sink any other character and will force a struggle even on his." Yet it is certain that Washington was not in the least doubt as to his own political principles; that he was never in danger of being inveigled into the betrayal of[205] those principles, whatever they might be; and that he was quite capable of due care for his own reputation.

If Madison did not know that these tears over Washington, if sincere, were quite uncalled for, Jefferson was not in the least deceived. He records in his "Ana" that the President, referring to certain articles that had recently appeared in Freneau's "Gazette," said that "he considered those papers as attacking him [Washington] directly; for he must be a fool indeed to swallow the little sugar-plums here and there thrown out to him; that in condemning the administration of the government they condemned him, for if they thought there were measures pursued contrary to his sentiments, they must conceive him too careless to attend to them, or too stupid to understand them." Again, some months later, the President, alluding to another article in Freneau's paper,—that "rascal Freneau," as he called him,—said "that he despised all their attacks on him personally, but there never had been an act of the government—not meaning in the executive line only, but in any line—which that paper had not abused. He was evidently sore and warm," continues the candid secretary, "and I took his intention to be, that I should interpose in some way with Freneau, perhaps withdraw his appointment of translating clerk in my office. But I will not do it."

These frank and indignant avowals of feeling and opinion were not, if we may believe Jefferson,[206] unusual with Washington, even in cabinet meetings; and it seems hardly likely that Madison, who was on the most friendly and intimate terms with the President, could have been so ignorant of how he felt and thought as to suppose him the mere dupe of designing men. The truth is, probably, that Madison did not, any more than Jefferson, believe this. It was only a bit of party tactics to assume, lest the President should have too much influence over the minds of the people, that, in the hands of the wicked "Anglicists," he was as clay in the hands of the potter. The two friends, whether in writing or by speech they lamented and excused the unhappy position, as they were pleased to call it, of the President, must have appeared to each other like the Roman augurs in Gér?me's picture.


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