THE HISTORY
OF THE
UNITED STATES

FROM 1492 TO 1920

BY JULIAN HAWTHORNE

P F COLLIER & SONS COMPANY, NEW YORK 1920

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CHAPTER  XXIV
Jeffersonian Sun and Shade (Part 1)

 

 IF THE history of the Revolution might almost be regarded as Washington's biography, so might the history of the United States since 1801 be described as the development of Jefferson's political ideas. Washington was the man of action, Jefferson the philosophic politician; Washington was a Federalist, Jefferson a Republican; but both had solely the welfare of their country in view, and each adopted toward that' end the means most fitting at the time. :fit the outset the Union needed to emphasize the policy of centralization; but after the Union had thus been established it must either depend upon the people or be metamorphosed into a monarchy, or go to pieces. Washington died before the people were fully recognized as the fountain of power and honor; but Jefferson had accepted this dogma in advance of his contemporaries, and based his life and faith upon its truth. He believed sincerely in the people; he announced that government by them was "the strongest on earth"; he laid all his political plans with that conclusion in view; and the main principles which he advocated and carried out are the reigning principles of our belief and practice to-day. The mistakes which he made are mainly the same mistakes which we have since repeated. The difficulties which most embarrassed him perplex us Still. The inconsistencies which are chargeable against him have characterized us since he died. But after the varied experience of nearly a hundred years we find that the acts which have made us great are generally those which he would have countenanced; and that the follies which have disgraced us are such as would have aroused his opposition. We remember that he wrote our Declaration and presided over the birth of our Constitution. That Constitution was so wisely flexible as to render possible the existence of an intelligent opposition, whichever theory of its interpretation was uppermost; therefore it had in it a soul of indestructible life. But Jefferson declared that difference of opinion did not necessitate difference of principle, and that where reason is free, error may be tolerated. Peace rather than pride was his aim; and he thought that the less of government we could get on with the better for the commonweal. His inaugural address was the triple essence of political sagacity; and in the practical conduct of public affairs he was uniformly faithful to his maxims as laid down beforehand. He encountered obstacles, which would have wrecked almost any other man, with wonderful intelligence, foresight, and success; and left America so much greater and sounder and more self comprehensive than he found her that we might say he was the builder with the materials which his predecessors had done little more than accumulate. His Embargo Act was a mistake; and yet even that was a choice of evils, the alternative being to encounter outrages and provocations which could not have failed to bring on war. Had circumstances not been modified at the time it was repealed, we might have found ourselves leaving the frying pan to enter the fire.

Peace was Jefferson's ardent desire; could peace be assured, his theory of politics would be beyond criticism. But war is sometimes inevitable; and war must always put pure Jeffersonian democracy to its severest test. There must always be the risk that the country will be found unprepared - when the critical moment arrives. On the other hand, the alternative is to maintain an army and navy on the European scale in time of peace, and with the object of making peace perpetual, which seems an absurdity in terms, and which also must involve obvious risks, and constant heavy expenditure. Here is a dilemma which can never be fully solved until war ceases out of the world-a contingency not to be regarded by practical men. It is conceivable that science may so refine its methods that at the smallest cost of men, money or preparation, destructive effects can be produced which will render resistance vain; and in that case the nation can pursue its peaceful avocations up to the very threshold of battle without risk of disadvantage. But speculations are not argument; and so long as we are governed on the Jeffersonian basis we shall always be liable to surprise and perhaps temporary disaster in our foreign relations. Doubtless no lasting success could ever attend an attack upon us; our only vital danger is to be feared from our own selves. But so long as European monarchies, with all that they imply, exist, we cannot deem ourselves beyond the reach of loss and annoyance.

It was of course on this ground that Jefferson advised against entangling alliances, and suggested the policy which has become so prominent of late under the name of the Monroe Doctrine. But we have proved that these devices do not suffice to protect us against danger, and it is still a question to what extent the American Idea should be pushed, and what means we should adopt to push it. Peace without honor is intolerable; and we are, beneath our commercial exterior, as warlike as any nation of history. If a great world struggle be at hand, or should it ever come, we cannot hope to hold wholly aloof from it; and the good of the human race requires that when we do take our part in it, it shall be decisive of the objects involved.

But the fact that Jeffersonianism is open to certain criticisms in the present state of the world and of civilization does not detract from its essential merit; it is the policy of the Golden Age, and that policy must not wait until the Golden Age comes before announcing itself and setting about its work. Its practice. even under imperfect conditions, is the surest if not the only way to bring the Age to birth. It is right in itself, and right in action is the best of proselytizers. The world already accepts the principle, and only awaits opportunity to embrace its concrete realization. Meanwhile the century has added nothing to Jefferson's analysis; it has only more or less lucidly interpreted it.

Jefferson by birth belonged to the patrician class, and was therefore the readier to observe the forms of democracy. Accident having placed within his reach all that birth could give, he could slight it and carry out the theory of equality by his example as well as by his precept. For this gift of station and fortune he entertained no respect, either as illustrated in himself or in others. There was perhaps some humorous amusement for him in drawing incumbents of office from the ranks, and witnessing the discomfiture of old school Federalists, who had never conceived that government could be intrusted to one who could not speak grammatically and act correctly in a drawing-room. It is certainly mortifying to be "ordered about" by our social inferiors; and we of this age witness this situation quite as often as did the people of the early century. That it is open to vast abuses and inconveniences none can deny; but they are not dangerous ones. Power in office may make a patrician evil; but it tends to make a plebeian better behaved, if not better in spirit. Public opinion is a check upon his baser propensities, and, in a democracy, the punishment that public opinion is always liable to visit upon offenders. The scum rises; but the safest place for scum is on the top, because there it can best be observed and either rejected or purified. As a matter of fact, the great crimes that have stained our political annals have not been committed by the scum, but by the cultivated members of the community. The scum steals money and condones vice in our municipalities; but that we are robbed and that we are disposed to vice is the fault not of the scum but of ourselves. If we exercise civic circumspection and control- our appetities, the scum is powerless; meanwhile it may serve a useful purpose in demonstrating to us how far we are from perfection.

Jefferson, then, may have hitched his horse to the paling of the Capitol when he came to be inaugurated; or he may have walked from his lodgings two hundred yards away, as the other party to, the controversy insists; and have worn a pair of trousers instead of knee breeches, and used strings instead of buckles for his shoes. At all events he chose to be democratic in his manners as well as in his ideas; and if he chose to yield to a histrionic whim in regard to some externals, it could do no harm and might do some good. He was great enough to do as he pleased. We must also observe that he was greater as President than he had been before; success improved him; he bad spoken sometimes as a pessimist while out of office; and the stealthy persistence with which he built up his party and arranged his campaign in advance of his election might be construed as slyness and cunning. But it is in vain that we try to pick flaws in Jefferson; that we say he played for popularity; that he was pusillanimous in his foreign policy; that he was indirect; that he was heartless. These and other accusations turn out to be untrue; because the man was on a larger scale than can be comprehended at a glance; and when we think we have spied a fault, we are apt to find that it is but a virtue partially seen. We have never had a politician so great as or more sincere than he; and if we never have another, we are still more fortunate than other nations. His was an exquisitely organized and broad-based intellect disposed to good; one of the rarest things in the world. Bacon, perhaps, had a mightier mind; but his moral nature was less admirable than Jefferson's; and Jefferson had the saving sense of humor which the Englishman lacked. The charge of heartlessness is absurd; the heart gives constancy and energy; and who surpassed Jefferson in these respects? Those keen, quizzical blue eyes of his could no doubt be cold upon occasion; he could not help seeing all round and beyond the scope of his chance interlocutor. But his kindliness was deeper than his coldness, and it became more manifest as he grew older. He valued his friendships, and took more pains than do most men of his caliber to maintain them. Who but Jefferson would have held to the stubborn and contrary Adams with such persistence and success?-so that they two, who would have been mortal enemies had both been of Adams's temper, went down the hill of life arm in arm, in cordial and noble communion. On the other hand, evil could not win him, come it in never so plausible and winning a guise; he kept himself clear of Aaron Burr; and every year he lived found him more and more on the side of the angels, as Disraeli would have said; and arrayed against the powers of darkness under whatever form.

For the romantic background of a great American work of the imagination the Administration of Jefferson offers advantages superior to those of any other of our Presidents; for that of Lincoln is too much of one tone to suit the requirements of art. Surprising events occurred, and picturesque incidents; and at least one achievement of a magnitude and importance unsurpassed in our annals. Great characters move across the stage, and vast schemes succeed or fail. There is fighting, and there is negotiation; and there are panoramic glimpses of the past, and fore shadowings of the future. And in the center, originating and controlling the action, we see always the slender figure of a foxy-haired man, six feet two inches in height, plainly clad, careless in bearing, courteous and composed, observant and contemplative. He is the foremost man of his day in America, and yet-such is the singularity of those early time she is the President of the Republic!

Among the other notable figures of this period are Burr the Vice President; Hamilton; Monroe; Gallatin; Randolph of Roanoke, that "ghost of a monkey" as he was termed in the critical amenities of the time; Madison, Secretary of State; Clinton, the Vice President of the second term. Abroad there are, not to mention others, Talleyrand again, and the great Napoleon. For the interludes we have the Dey of Algiers and him of Tripoli, and Toussaint L'Ouverture, the French West Indian negro, who did his black fellow countrymen the service of establishing them in a republic of their own; and the disservice, perhaps outweighing the benefit, of arousing hopes of a successor of his greatness destined never to be fulfilled. The minor characters of the egregious comedy, not less' interesting in their degree, are numberless. The play continues eight years, and after many vicissitudes the end is happy.

Jefferson had been called all manner of names by his opponents previous to his inauguration, which were meant to indicate that he was a maniacal innovator, who would, as the phrase is, put his foot in it whenever he opened his mouth. They were much disappointed; therefore, at what actually happened; the address was conciliatory to all; and Jefferson's policy showed not only a political sagacity which left other policies looking foolish, but a knowledge of human nature in the broad, especially as instanced in his fellow countrymen, which was Shakespearian. He perceived that the great Federal leaders were too closely wedded to their ideas to be withdrawn from them; but he knew that this would not be the case with the people whom they had led; and therefore he opened the way for these to unite themselves with the Republicans without seeming to abandon their essential convictions. Everybody likes to feel that he has a share in the Government; and Jefferson showed the Federalist rank and file that their party aimed to gradually secure the ruling power to a few superior individuals, and to leave them with the privilege only of being well managed. No stronger or gentler lure could have been held out than the assurance that he who joined the Republicans became his own king. So far as this argument was concerned, Jefferson had it all his own way; but there were divergent ideas as to local politics which had nothing to do with Federals or Republicans as such; and these remained to disturb the peace in their measure. In foreign affairs there was little difference of opinion, as soon as the designs of Jefferson could be known though, while they were still in the secret stage, they aroused criticism enough, which the critics bad leisure to repent of. The Louisiana Purchase was the largest and most complicated of these transactions. The vast wedge of territory which borders on the Mississippi and ranges indefinitely westward till it reaches the Pacific in the neighborhood of Oregon, had been ceded to Spain by France in 1762. In 1802 it became known to Jefferson that it had been ceded back to France by a secret treaty. Napoleon, for whom half the world was not space enough, meant to establish France firmly in the west, and thus complete the discomfiture of England? While the transfer was accomplishing, the port of New Orleans was closed to American commerce, much to the. inconvenience and indignation of the American settlers in the valley, who bad hitherto used it. Knowing nothing of the inside of what was going forward, they could see only that Spain was obstructing them, in defiance of treaty rights; and they were for war forthwith. Now Jefferson, who was all for peace whenever possible, had conceived the idea of getting New Orleans by purchase, and was sending Monroe as special envoy to France to assist the aged Livingstone, our resident minister in Paris, in arranging for the sale. Pending the result, he was careful to offend neither Spain nor France, popular clamor notwithstanding. Spain made proper apologies in due time; and Napoleon, having made up his mind that he would need all his strength to settle England in Europe, and that her control of the sea would disable him from occupying America, abruptly resolved to rid himself of the latter by selling it to the United States thus at one stroke putting that Government under an obligation and enormously strengthening her against his enemy England. Nor was the money which he would get for the sale an unimportant consideration. He demanded one hundred million francs; fifty were offered by the surprised Americans (who had never expected to get more than the island of New Orleans with some little adjoining territory), and eighty million were accepted. Here Monroe showed to advantage, and proved that he had advanced in diplomacy since his former French experience. A weaker man would have feared to take the responsibility of so large a transaction without further instructions from home; and Napoleon was a man who would be on to-day and off to-morrow; one had to settle with him while one was in the way with him, or not at all. Monroe acted with as much promptness as did the First Consul; and moreover had the self-possession to beat him down in his price. The region thus added to our domain contained the material for twelve large States; and though it was still almost unsettled, except by Indians, it entirely altered our position as a nation before the world. Jefferson himself was at first a little embarrassed by, the size of the acquisition; and wished that a part of it should for the present be reserved for Indian occupation. The territory was surveyed, by his direction, by Lewis and Clark, who thus furnished the first authentic news of the nature and resources of the country. It fell to Congress to decide whether the States to be formed from it should admit slavery; and it was unfortunately resolved not to refuse this privilege. Jefferson believed that the country would finally divide on the Mississippi, instead of North and South. The proslavery men in Congress were, for the time being, less aggressive than formerly; and New Jersey and New York abolished slavery within their borders. The influence of Wilberforce in England in favor of totally abolishing slavery was felt in this country; the provision of the Constitution to forbid the importation of slaves after 1808 was to be carried out; and, altogether, Jefferson's Mississippi boundary was plausible.

The most depressed man in America at this juncture was Hamilton, who found no work for his hand to do, and who could not find personal happiness in the prosperity of his country. He had, however, showed true patriotism, or at least political foresight, in declining to be a party to a scheme which was being broached, to make a separate commonwealth of New England, with the addition, if possible, of New York and New Jersey; these States being the seat of what remained of the Federalists. Aaron Burr was not so particular; but the plan fell through, and Burr was left for another destiny. Hamilton had favored winning Louisiana by war, and had been mortified by the success of the superior policy of Jefferson. He had no influence with the Government, and could not even get his pamphlet attacks upon it noticed. He was the most successful practitioner at the bar, and could make a fortune every year; but he had never cared for money. He was annoyed by being classed with the supporters of Aaron Burr, whose sole political policy was his own advancement by whatever means might offer. "What can I do better than withdraw from the scene?" he asked his friends. "Every day proves to me more and more that this American world was not made for me." His' discontent was to meet with an answer such as he little anticipated. Aaron Burr was his mortal enemy; Hamilton bad thwarted him in his New England scheme, and was his successful rival at the bar. Hamilton, at the time when Burr was trying for the Governorship of New York, had opposed him, and incidentally given expression to his opinion of him within such bounds as were considered legitimate in political controversy. Burr was now a political ruin, but his hatreds were only the more animated. He loved a shining mark, and fixed upon Hamilton as the scapegoat of his revenge. He took exception to remarks made by Hamilton during the canvass, and demanded that they be withdrawn. This Hamilton could not do; and Burr was thus enabled to challenge him to a duel. Burr meant to kill his man; he was a good shot, and he practiced for this encounter; upon his steadiness of nerve on the field he knew he could rely. Hamilton was averse to the encounter from the beginning; but in that age a challenge could not be refused without the charge of cowardice, which Hamilton lacked the "higher courage" to endure. Indeed, one can hardly
blame him for this: he was a soldier; he bad acted a high part in the world; he lived in his ambitions; had he declined the challenge, his career would have ended in disgrace, however little merited. He accepted, therefore; though be seems to have underrated Burr's deadly purpose, and did not look forward to a fatal rermination. The men met in the early morning of the 11th of July, 1804. On the word being given, Burr took good aim and fired; his bullet struck Hamilton in the right breast, and he fell on his face-his own pistol going off in the air, whether designedly or by accident. This duel has been called a murder, and an assassination; but it was not more so than are other duels. It was an irrationality for which society was responsible. It is true that Burr goaded Hamilton into fighting,. and that he was perhaps a better shot than he; but when they stood facing each other that morning, Burr was risking his life; and the duel asks no more. There is no cure for the duel except the improvement of society; for the device of banging the surviving principal, though it has never been tried, would probably turn out ineffectual as a deterrent to others. Burr was indeed threatened with the gallows in New Jersey, and was disfranchised in New York, and he had to disappear for a while. His larger historic crime was still a short distance in the future.

Meanwhile Jefferson, peaceful man though be was, was to show fight in a cause which had strangely found all the powers of Europe wanting-perhaps because they fancied that by making terms with robbers themselves, they would thereby subject their neighbors to the inconvenience of robbery. We ourselves, under the belligerent Adams, had stooped to pay tribute to the Dey of Algiers; and Commodore Bainbridge had not dared to resent the snuff-colored ruffian's assertion that Americans were his slaves, who must run his errands in their men-of-war when he so ordered. But this potentate, and his brethren of the coast, standing upon what they had gained, demanded so much more that the quiet Jefferson, who after all had red hair, became annoyed, and decided that such impertinence must cease. Accordingly he dispatched Commodore Dale with three frigates and a smaller vessel, to parade up and down the Barbary Coast with a chip on his shoulder, as it were; and, should any pirate attempt to knock the chip off, to sink, burn and destroy him. Dale found at Gibraltar a couple of Algerian cruisers on the watch for American prey; he blockaded them while the American merchantmen were convoyed out of danger, and then, with a frigate and a schooner, cruised off Tripoli; and the schooner thrashed a Tripoli Ran fourteen-gun cruiser, much to the amazement and dismay of Barbary. The main difficulty was to get the pirates to fight; like the Spanish in our day, they kept inside their harbors, where the shallow water prevented us from getting at them. In 1802, Dale was succeeded by Morris, who did nothing, and more ships were ordered. Several of the corsair ships were captured or blown up, and in 1803 Preble was put in command of the entire American fleet in the Mediterranean.

He found Bainbridge, who had taken the Dey's message to Constantinople years before, with the tatter's flag flying from our frigate's masthead, and-his own tail between his legs-be found this unfortunate person a prisoner of Tripoli, be having run his ships the Philadelphia, on a rock while pursuing a frigate of the enemy. He and his men were now slaves in good earnest. But Decatur was a young lieutenant whose ideas of what befitted an American differed from those of Bainbridge; and Decatur, with a picked crew, in a
small ketch, ran into the harbor of Tripoli, and burned the Philadelphia where she lay at anchor; although all
the guns of Tripoli were throwing shells at him and his men meanwhile. The Dey might get ransom for Bainbridge, but he world never be able to show an American frigate as a prize. The breed of Decaturs appears periodically in our navy; sometimes they disguise themselves as a Cushing, or again as a Hobson. But whatever name they go by, they announce themselves by always attempting some deed of desperate daring, and always succeeding in it. Congress gave Decatur a, sword and a captaincy, and he waited for another chance. Preble, relieved in the autumn by Barron, with the President and the Constellation, continued the blockade, and captured or sunk more vessels. The American navy was becoming a national favorite, and a special "Mediterranean Fund" tax was levied to keep it in condition. But though Jefferson was our first High Admiral, he had misgivings as to whether the game was worth the candle; and tried to save expense by the device of small gunboats for coast protection. A gunboat without steam power, however, was not found to be of much avail; and Fulton had not yet earned his first steamboat fare. The war came to an, end in 1505 on a basis of "mutual friendship," and, one regrets to note, on the promise of the payment by the United Staten of $60,000 as ransom for American prisoners held by Barbary, in excess of those that could be exchanged for prisoners captured by us. For all that, the peace was looked upon as a victory for the United States, and the other Barbary powers wished to make similar arrangements. The rating of the corsairs was taken out.

War or no war, the Republic flourished. Gallatin's balance sheet was pleasant and interesting; the cold mannered, conservative Swiss was just the man for Treasurer, without Hamilton's originative genius, but safer for economy. Congress began the division of Louisiana. The inhabitants -of New Orleans, and the southern portion of the domain, were alien in ideas as well as in race, and somewhat disposed to be troublesome; but the irruption of good Americans would soon set them in order. General Wilkinson, afterward connected with the Burr conspiracy, was placed in charge of the northern portion, with St. Louis as a center. The Indiana region was put under Harrison, and the Michigan territory under Hull; and, finally, the district east of the Mississippi, with Spanish Florida as its southern boundary, wan intrusted to the governorship of Robert Williams. This part became involved with the Yazoo land grants made by Georgia in the last century to speculators under a law afterward declared illegal; the discussions and negotiations over the assignees' title led to the adoption of the system of selling Government lands in 160-acre lots, which still prevails. The . close of the session, and of Jefferson's first term, wan marked by the impeachment trial of Judge Chase, the American Jeffreys in the Alien and Sedition Acts prosecutions. This man's name was on the Declaration of Independence, and his war record wan good; but he was probably saved from conviction in thin trial less because he deserved acquittal than because Randolph of Roanoke had been injudiciously engaged to conduct the prosecution. The apelike rantings and eccentricities of this odd' creature, and his rank inability to make a solid and coherent argument, were sufficient to arouse the sympathy of the Senate for' the object of his attack. Moreover, Chase had a bad case of gout.

Forward to Jeffersonian Sun Shade Part 2

 

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