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 2)

 

 A picturesque feature of the cloning day of this Congress was the grave and dignified attitude of Aaron Burr, who, though he was a fugitive from justice, and mood convicted of crimes which withheld men from associating with him, yet was unassailable as Vice President of the United states, and had discharged his office throughout in an unexceptionable style. If his heart wan seething with evil passions, his face was cold and cynical, and his voice steady and unimpassioned. When the Senate gave him the .customary vote of thanks on his retirement, he treated them to a singular prediction, more in accord with Federal than with Republican ideas. "Thin body in growing in importance. It in here, if anywhere, that our country must ultimately find the anchor of her safety; and if the Constitution in to perish, which may God avert, and which I do not believe, its dying agonies will be seen on this floor." This little speech, frigidly uttered, contains more of the nature and character of Aaron Burr than could be easily expressed in so few words. It contained a lie, a pose, an ominous hint, as empty as it was ominous, and an inadvertent impiety. Withal, it had a certain masculine grace and impressiveness about it. Burr wan a prince of adventurers, and one half likes him for being wicked in such capital style. He was a ruiner of young men and of women, a political Iscariot, a duelist, a mocker at all things sacred, and a traitor to his country; but he dressed in good taste, his manners were unexceptionable; his voice agreeable, his face handsome, his conversation fascinating; and he lacked but one vote of being President of the United States; and thereby plunging them into that destruction which we have seen him pray God to avert. It wan a dramatic freak of destiny, in this moat dramatic period of history, that placed this man and Jefferson aide by side in the forefront of the Republic. They have both of them left descendants.

Jefferson and Clinton were elected by an overwhelming majority for the neat term; Pinckney and King being the Federal nominees. This was Jefferson's most popular hour, and there is no doubt that he liked popularity; not merely because it was personally agreeable, but because it seemed to indicate that his theories of government were just. But it is dangerous for a doctrinaire to be too fortunate; he is led to overestimate his doctrines. Jefferson was now confirmed in the notion that a nation could be conducted on a peace basis, and the expense of an armament saved for productive purposes. Other statesmen of ours have thought the same thing, but they have never proved their point. As if to admonish the author of the Declaration that he was but mortal, England began to be particularly exasperating. Naval men are perhaps apt to be a little arbitrary; but the navy officers of England passed all limits of moderation, and Pitt the Lounger supported them. Their ostensible argument was that a man who had once been a- British subject always must remain one; and that wherever found he could be required to act as such. The British navy was in need of seamen; and it was affirmed that British men-of-war's-men had deserted to American merchant ships. Consequently British naval officers arrogated the right of searching American merchantmen for deserters. At first they were content to conduct the search only in English waters; then they claimed the right on the high seas; at last nothing would satisfy them but overhauling our ships in our own harbors; and not only that, but they would compel the captains to send their papers to them, instead of taking the trouble to go after them themselves. They would order the whole ship's company, passengers and all, to line up before them, that they might decide who were deserters and who were not. It always happened that the deserters turned out to be the ablest men in sight; and that their number exactly corresponded with the number of men the Englishman was in need of. Protestations, citizenship papers, oaths, and threats were alike vain; the men were impressed, and forced to serve the King during his Majesty's pleasure: If the man happened to be a Swede or a Hindu, it was all one, provided he were also a good upstanding man; having been found on an American vessel, he must be an English-born deserter. One should really be thankful that the English captains did not come ashore at Boston and New York, or even at Washington, and carry off any likely individual on the streets, or in the Senate Chamber, who might chance to strike their fancy.

Jefferson had a sense of humor, and he was a man of pace; but he failed to enter into the spirit of this kind of fun; and, besides, it was only a question of time when we world have no sailors left. Nor could it be expected that such doings would increase -the prosperity of our commerce; if a sailor, on signing the ship's articles, rendered himself liable to spend his concluding years between an English frigate's decks, helping to kill people with whom neither he nor his country had any quarrel, he would be apt to seek some other avenue of activity. To make matters worse, we were not allowed by England to engage in commercial relations with the French, or with any French possessions; and the French retaliated by forbidding us to traffic
with any English ports, and the end of it promised to be that we must not have any commerce whatever, Yet a large part of our wealth, at this time, was derived from commerce. What was to be done? Were we prepared to fight England and France at once, in support of our rights?

Not, thought Jefferson, until all negotiations had failed; and he sent over Monroe and Pinckney to make a new -treaty with England, in place of the Jay Treaty, which had expired. But Monroe and Pinckney could not obtain the sine qua non of a cessation of the impressment outrage. England was willing to give assurances; but one could not help feeling that she would respect our rights just so far as she thought we had power and will to enforce them; and it was also to be borne in mind that one ministry might be less accommodating than the succeeding one. In fact, when Pitt's death, by bringing the more liberal Fox-Grenville Ministry into power, had seemed to offer us a chance of justice, the death of Fox upset the situation, and we were handed over to Canning and Castlereagh. The prospect was squally enough, when it was made more sinister yet by the conduct of a British sloop-of-war which, in defiance of a standing order of ours forbidding British men-ofwar to lie in our ports, entered Charleston for water and would not leave when ordered to do so, and by the Chesapeake affair, which occurred soon after. Three seamen, two of whom had been impressed by the British, and were' American citizens, deserted from the British man-of-war Melampus, and took service on the American Chesapeake. They were received in good faith, not knowing them to be deserters, and there being at any rate nn treaty requiring us to deliver them up. The Chesapeake put to sea, and ran into a British squadron, one vessel of which, the Leopard, sent a boat aboard her, and demanded the surrender of the men. Commodore Barron, of the Chesapeake, of course declined to comply with this preposterous demand; but he made the mistake of not preparing for the consequences; his decks were littered, and his ship quite unprepared for action. The Leopard, upon receiving Barron's reply, fired a broadside into her, and kept on firing for twelve minutes, without the Chesapeake being able to fire a gun in reply. Twenty two round shot struck the American, and twenty one of her crew, including Barron, were wounded or killed. Down came the Stars and Stripes; the crew were paraded, and the three men, together with another one, were taken off by the British captain, and one of them was hanged.

This was a little too much. If this were borne, then we were a subjugated nation and the Declaration of Independence was worse than waste paper. Reparation or war was the universal cry. "This country has never been in such a state of excitement since the battle of Lexington," wrote Jefferson. Our ships in foreign ports were warned; our coast was put in a state of defense; a call was made for a hundred thousand men. British cruisers were ordered out of our ports-which order they contemptuously disregarded. Monroe was directed to suspend all negotiations. Here was a good opportunity for England to demonstrate her sense of justice and love of fair play. Would she support her navy in this proceeding?

Canning, on receiving the news, at first expressed a formal regret; but declined to consider reparation unless the United States should supplicate the Icing as -for a favor, and await his will, as in the good old colonial times. English public opinion, however, showed itself restive under this behavior, and Canning finally consented to the dispatch of a special envoy to treat on the matter; but he was not empowered to offer reparation, nor to promise any relief against the British impressment policy. He protracted the discussion for six months, without result, and then returned home.

Certainly Jefferson could not be accused of lack of moderation; for we were not at war with England even yet. There was only one way to secure England's favor, and that was to fight on her side against France and the rest of Europe. It has to be recorded that there was a party in this country-the opposition which favored this line of action; England was secretly dealing with it, and had some hopes of inducing the adoption of the policy; and it was this hope alone which kept her from pushing her insolence to the verge of acts of open war. Napoleon, on the other hand, upon discovering that we would not side with him either, put in active operation his own decrees of confiscation and seizure against us, and added a final artistic touch by declaring any American vessel which had submitted to British outrages to be thereby denationalized, and the prey of Frenchmen. We were become the football of the two players, England and Napoleon. And still the tall, red-haired man kept his temper. .

It is hard to forgive him; yet he was right. Europe was war mad; it did not mean to insult us, and did but give us a kick when we got in its way, or by way of intimating to us that we had better take sides. We had nothing to gain by taking sides, and could not have made our blows felt by anybody. We had only one thing that was of value to Europe, and that was our commerce; they did not fear us, but they needed our goods. Congress was Republican; the Federalists had good debaters in Quincy and Randolph (who had broken with Jefferson because the latter had refused to give him the English mission), but no numerical strength. Jefferson had a policy, and he now secretly imparted it to Congress: it was Embargo. It passed after a debate of three days in the House, and of four hours in the Senate. What was it?

It has been called an amputation; but the comparison is not good; for arms and legs cut off can never grow again; ; it might better be likened to a pruning process. At all events, it forbid the sailing of all foreign-bound vessels except by special permission of the Executive; and coasters must give bonds that they would never leave the coasts. It was a drastic measure; but it was a Hobson's choice. We had not the power to protect our commerce; and if we submitted to one belligerent we should run foul of the other; we could not maintain an active neutrality, and the only thing left us was to render it impossible for other nations to profit by our misfortunes. By giving. up the benefits of our commerce for ourselves, we could deprive them of its benefits, and might thus hope to induce them to reconsider their ways, and let our commerce alone. It might ruin us; but it is more agreeable to be ruined by one's self than by outsiders.

The embargo was accepted by the greater part of the country, though the Eastern ultra-Federalists opposed it, and accused Jefferson of various crimes, among them of being an enemy of commerce and a creature of Napoleon. It had to be maintained by force, because our merchants were, in too many cases. willing to sacrifice the honor of their country for the sake of their cargoes. It was not expected, of course, to be more than a temporary measure: and Jefferson believed that the European war must soon cease, and with it the need of an embargo. He did not anticipate war for us, and not more than a million dollars was appropriated to the fortification of our harbors. Three million more were spent on gunboats and the organization of land forces. Wade Hampton and Peter Gansevoort were Lieutenant names, respectively, of Winfield Scott and Zachary Taylor.

New England suffered terribly from the embargo; great quantities of perishable foodstuffs were heaped on the wharves, which would be a total loss if not exported, and which would command a high price abroad. All manner of devices were put in practice to get them off, and Governors of States were besieged with applications for permits which were often granted. New York had a similar experience. States which needed supplies from other States could not get them, because vessels cleared for their ports would carry their cargoes to Europe or to Canada. Presently mercantile failures began to be announced by wholesale; and there was no good bankruptcy law to relieve them. Europe needed our supplies; but it seemed that we needed even more ,to supply them. The hope of Jefferson that the European war would cease was being deferred until the hearts of Americans were sick. On the other hand, England began to gain the trade that we had relinquished, and professed indifference as to whether the embargo were raised or not. By the time the President's second term was closing, the revolt against the embargo had become violent. It was declared to be unconstitutional; lampoons were circulated; petitions, remonstrances and threats were rife. Secession was openly talked of. The Administration was menaced with the desertion of those who had upheld it. At the last session of Congress a resolution for the repeal of the act was introduced, but was lost; the Government pointing out that the choice lay between war, submission to England, and the embargo. Then Madison, the incoming President, offered, through Campbell of Tennessee, three resolutions: That the English and French made Brigadiers, and a Captain and a who were afterward heard of bore the edicts were dishonorable to this country: that our commerce and products should be excluded from their ports: and that immediate measures be taken to put us in a better state of defense. They were passed after some debate as to the second resolution. A bill for the strict enforcement of the embargo was then put to the House. The Southern and Central States urged the East to submit, as they had done; but the East replied that tobacco and cotton were not perishable like their goods; besides, the capital of New England was embarked in commerce, and could not be diverted.` Jefferson himself thought that the agricultural and industrial interests of the country should not be sacrificed to the commercial; but he was confronted not by a theory but by a condition. Josiah Quincy, the voluble leader of the Massachusetts Federalists, affirmed that we ought to fight by force, not manifestoes; and that though embargo might be less expensive than war, it was more intolerable; besides, said lie, "the Administration could not be kicked into war." But we were wholly unprepared for war; and Jefferson cannot be excused from responsibility for this; his desire for peaceful development of the country had led him too far. The enforcement bill finally passed the House by 71 to 32, with discretion to the Executive. It was not a national but a sectional measure, and could not but breed discontent. Faneuil Hall thundered with protests. The Massachusetts Legislature demanded in effect that we side with England against Franch. Connecticut followed suit. The singular spectacle was presented of Federalism supporting State rights, and Republicanism standing for a strong central authority. The East threatened secession upon grounds - similar to those which actuated the South in 1861 mutatis mutandis. Finally, Congress agreed to raise the embargo in March, 1809, except as to England and France -a policy of neutral retaliation not amounting war, but practically giving up the embargo experiment. It was hoped that the other European nations would help us out. And if our merchants were willing to risk capture and insult, let them be indulged. But still Congress, hesitated to give orders for the adequate strengthening of the navy; without which we must remain abject to the mercy of chance. They hated to spoil their record for economy. Our net receipts for 1808 were $17,000,000; our debt, under Jefferson, had been cut down by $33,580,000, and there was a large surplus in the Treasury. At this rate, could war have been avoided, we would soon have been on the high wave of prosperity. But war had to come. As to the embargo, its effect upon the whole had been good, :n so far as either a more or a less aggressive policy would probably have been worse. Time was of value to us in our growing state; we were stronger when war did break out than we were when Jefferson avoided it. And the disturbances in our own household which the embargo aroused, served to show the danger points of our Constitution, and might admonish us to avoid them in future. The most regrettable feature of the episode, from the point of view of the retiring President, was that it occurred during his last year of office, and thus sent him into private life under a cloud. He was an Owen Glendower who had called spirits from the vasty deep once too often, and they had finally declined to respond. He was depressed and weary, and glad to go home to Monticello; but time soon restored his philosophic cheerfulness, and his countrymen, when they had time to think him over, easily gave him back their favor and affection. He had given them seven years of success for one of failure.

In following the course of the embargo we have passed over the highly colored incident of Burr's conspiracy, which came to a head in 1806. It had no root in the general scheme of things here, and its effect, so far as any could be predicated of it, was to prove that we did not want imperialism, and that our territory on the Mississippi was loyal to the Union.

Burr, in desperate social and political straits, thought he could be an American Napoleon; but Napoleon himself could not have done in the Western Hemisphere what he accomplished in the Eastern. Traveling down the Ohio and Mississippi in 1805, Burr noted the vast resources of the country, and the bold and independent character of its inhabitants. He thought he could seduce the Western country from its allegiance, and establish a dynasty; he would oust Congress at Washington with a few troops, and assassinate Jefferson; and he sought to win influential men to his scheme by talking mysteriously about making a diversion in the interests of America against Spain which the apparently impending Spanish war favored. Daniel Clark, a wealthy New Orleans man, and General Wilkinson, his old comrade in arms, were interested in his plans, though probably without comprehending their full scope; but Burr relied upon taking advantage of circumstance and accident, and hurrying his companions beyond their depth before they thought of retreat. The Spanish war was averted; but he, modified his designs accordingly. He was not, how ever, able to survive the betrayal of Wilkinson, who was essential to his scheme, and whom he thought he held fast by promises of glory. But Wilkinson drew back at the last moment; perhaps not till then realizing that actual treason was meditated; perhaps deciding, upon a balance of probabilities, that loyalty was the safer course. He was not an honorable man, but he was either too timid or to prudent to hazard his position and life upon the die. He fortified New Orleans and put the neighborhood under martial law. Meanwhile Burr, ignorant of his defection, was arranging to assemble his expedition at Blennerhassett Island on the Ohio. This was a paradisiacal retreat owned by an Irishman of literary and esthetic proclivities, with a beautiful wife and a lovely family. Burr talked him into a hypnotic condition, and he put himself and his fortune at his disposal. A Government spy sent to the island, in consequence of some words let fall by Burr, reported his suspicions, and the Governor of Ohio sent troops to the place, who destroyed the house. Blennerhasset escaped in a boat down the river, met Burr, who was pursuing his recruiting operations, and told him the news. Burr still was unaware that Wilkinson had failed him; but on nearing New Orleans, the fact was discovered, and he plunged into the wilderness, after destroying the arms he had collected, and other evidences of the conspiracy. But he was recognized and arrested for treason. His trial failed to convict him, owing to lack of technical evidence; he went to Europe, where he lived on charity for a time; but in 1812 returned to New York secretly, and supported himself there by a pettifogging practice, and by taking advantage of the kindness and infatuation of women, over whom he retained his hold till the last. His only child, a girl, to whom he had promised the rank of princess, was drowned at sea. A rich widow whom he, at the. age of seventy-eight, married, left him soon after; and he died in poverty and obscurity two years later. Blennerhassett wandered about the world, trying to repair his fortunes, and dying at last in Ireland. Congress passed an act authorizing the President to call out troops to suppress insurrection and resistance to laws, and to employ the navy and army of the United States. The only other result of the conspiracy was to create or confirm an estrangement between Chief Justice Marshall, who presided at Burr's trial, and perhaps stretched a point in his favor, and Jefferson. Jefferson's action in defeating the conspiracy had been well timed and effective; but he had never been alarmed by it, believing that the American people themselves would render all such things futile.

As the period for the abolition of the slave trade drew near, Congress passed the necessary act, the date fixed being January 1, 1808. Brut, in anticipation of this, the importation of slaves had greatly increased, nearly thirty thousand having been brought in during the last two years; and North Carolina continuing it up to the last moment allowed by the law. The penalties for violation were very heavy fines, and imprison ment up to ten years. The slaves which might be captured from slave ships by the Government were to be left free to follow their own devices, subject to local laws; though a colonization society was started to dispose of them in some suitable locality. No new conversions of States to abolition of slavery were made; the public interest in & matter died out, and the Philadelphia Society sunk into inanition. Virginia excepted, with more or less resignation, the compulsion of circumstances, which forced 'her to retain slavery. The weightiest men declared that there could be no equality between whites and blacks. To this Jefferson replied: "Their degree of talent is no measure of their rights. Because Sir Isaac Newton was superior to others in understanding, he was not therefore lord of the persons and property of others." The most important aspect of the slavery question respected its spread in the new western regions, which had been opened by Lewis and Clark as far as to remote Oregon. But it did not seem pressing enough for immediate attention.

Such was the condition of salubrity and public health which the black pestilence of European war invaded and destroyed. The history of the preliminaries which led up to the struggle demonstrates that the best way is the bold way, and that the sooner it is taken the better. The threat of the mailed fist is wiser than the caress of the deprecating palm. But then it is indispensable to have a mailed fist to threaten with.

Jefferson declined to stand for a third term, believing that the precedent would be an evil one, leading first to appointments for .life and then to hereditary succession. Moreover, he was tired and wanted rest; and Madison, his successor, was his friend both personally and politically. The latter, accordingly, was elected, with Clinton remaining as Vice President. Clinton, and also Monroe, had been candidates for the higher office. The prospect of war was strong, and it was thought by many that Madison was not strong enough to carry the country through it; the objection to Clinton was that he was too old. This pointed to Monroe as a logical candidate; but no caucus or ring could agree upon him. The Federal ticket was defeated without trouble upon Clinton's consent to be content with the subordinate position. The time for Monroe was to come at a later day, when the storm now threatening had been weathered, and a long period of peaceful development was. beginning. But in fact the era of controlling individualities in the Presidential chair was for the present past; the Executive was to do little more than carry out the will of the people as interpreted by Congress; and Congress for a time gained in the weight and personal distinction of its members. The way was opening for the Clays, the Calhouns and the Websters. Madison's extreme integrity in a measure balanced his lack of personal force; and he was a man of great intelligence, and thoroughly conversant with. public business. He proved, indeed, an agreeable surprise even to his friends; his mind and disposition were symmetrical and unprejudiced, and it 'is quite possible that he, was as good a pilot through the coming crisis as we would have picked out from our repertoire of political talent. What he did not know he was soon to learn in the school of a lively experience. .

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