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the President,) viewing the state of France within, and its foreign relations from a near station, supposes the Republic will not survive six months; the President supposes it will last seven years, and desires his opinion may be remembered.
The President thinks the French government will not accept the terms, which the envoys are instructed to propose ; that they will speedily return; and that he shall have to recommend to Congress a declaration of war. Fallacious expectation! That government will hardly hesitate about the terms; for we ask only what we have a clear right to insist on. And, if we demand any thing unreasonable, the French government, sooner than let the envoys return and hazard immediate war, would yield every thing; with an intention of disregarding its engagements the moment the pressure of the combined powers should cease, or that peace were made with them. But, as to the French negotiation producing a war with England ; if it did, England could not hurt us! This last idea was part of Mr. Ellsworth's recital to Mr. Wolcott and
I had not patience to hear more; but have desired Mr. Wolcott to commit the whole recital to writing, which he promised to do. And yet the President has several times, in his letters to me from Quincy, mentioned the vast importance of keeping on good terms with England !
Among the most enlightened citizens and truest friends to our country, but one opinion prevails. All deprecate the French mission, as fraught with irreparable mischiefs. Once I would have relied on the good sense of the people for a remedy of the mischiefs when assailing us; but my opinion of that good sense is vastly abated.
A large proportion seem more ready to embrace falsehood than truth. But I will still hope in the interposition of Providence to save our country. I have been ever fond of the motto, “Never to despair." I am most respectfully, Sir, your obedient servant,
JAMES MCHENRY TO GEORGE WASHINGTON.
Philadelphia, 10 November, 1799. My Dear Sir, My attention, for some time past, has been so completely engrossed, that, notwithstanding my carnest wish to communicate with you upon several subjects, I could not, without neglecting some urgent business, devote any moments to that purpose. In truth, the stone, however near I may seem to get it to the summit of the mountain, is perpetually upon the recoil, and demands constant exertion and labor to keep it from descending.
I have much to say to you; many facts to intrust to your bosom.
Take them without order and as they occur. You will arrange them in your own mind, and supply the results.
The prevailing rumor has no doubt reached you, of disagreements in the cabinet, or that a difference of opinion exists between the President and heads of departments relative to the mission to France. I am sorry to inform you, that there is too much foundation for this report. Last session of Congress, the President made the nomination of Mr. Murray, to treat with the Republic of France, without any consultation, or giving the least intimation of his intention to any of the heads of departments, This step, admitting the measure itself to have been wise and the dictate of sound policy, was nevertheless such a departure from established practice, as could not fail to excite considerable sensibility. Independent, however, of this circumstance, or the new practice it seemed intended to establish, the policy and wisdom of the mission were either doubted or condemned by most if not all the Federal members of Congress; in consequence of which the nomination received a modification by a second message to the Senate from the President, in which they concurred.
Notwithstanding this modification, it was very evident that most of the Federal members of both branches of Congress carried home with them a settled dislike to the measure, as ill-timed, built upon too slight grounds, and therefore humiliating to the United States; as calculated to revive French principles, strengthen the party against government, and produce changes in the sentiments and conduct of some of the European powers, that might materially affect our interests and growing commercial prospects.
Have not some of these apprehensions been already realized ?
You must have perceived observations and suggestions in the newspapers of different States, tending to censure the mission, which I consider as having proceeded from these disaffections.
The great and important successes of the allies, engaged against France, the changes in the Directory, and the rapidity with which every matter and thing in France seemed hurrying to a restoration of monarchy, indicated to the heads of departments the propriety of a suspension of the mission. We accordingly, while he was at Quincy, presented the idea to the President, as a subject for his consideration.
Without taking any notice of the subject of this letter, a few days succeeding his arrival at Trenton, he convened us to conclude upon the instructions, and shortly after gave his final orders for the departure of the commissioners, who have accordingly sailed from Rhode Island in the frigate United States on the 3d instant.
Shall we have a treaty with France in consequence of this mission ? Yes, if she finds it necessary to her situation and circumstances,
Will a treaty, which shall not trench upon any rights acquired by, give umbrage to, England ? It is certain no good reason can be assigned why it should.
Is it not also possible, that the policy of the mission may be justified by events, such as a general peace in Europe this winter, the republican form of government remaining to France ?
The President believes, and with reason, that three of the heads of departments have viewed the mission as impolitic and unwise. He does not, I imagine, class the Secretary of the Navy among its disapprovers, although he joined in the letter advising its suspension. I find that he is particularly displeased with Mr. Pickering and Mr. Wolcott, thinking they have encouraged opposition to it to the eastward ; seemingly a little less so with me, and not at all with Mr. Stoddert and the Attorney-General, who appear to enjoy his confidence; and yet those he is so displeased with are still received and treated by him with apparent cordiality.
Whether he will think it expedient to dismiss any, or how many of us, is a problem. I believe the Attorney-General and Secretary of the Navy are of opinion he ought, and would perhaps, if asked, advise to the dismission at least of one. There are however, powerful personal reasons, especially at this juncture, which forbid it; and it is more than possible, as these chiefly respect the eastern quarter of the Union, they will prevail.
But, in my view of the subject, the evil does not lie in a change of secretaries, however brought about, as these may be replaced with good and able men, but in the mission, which, as far as my information extends, is become an apple of discord to the Federalists, that may so operate upon the ensuing election of President, as to put in jeopardy the fruits of all their past labors, by consigning to men, devoted to French innovations and demoralizing principles, the reins of government. It is this dreaded consequence, which afflicts, and calls for all the wisdom of, the Federalists.
It is evident from the late election in Pennsylvania, that there is a disciplined and solid army of Anti-federalists ready to take the field for a President of their own principles, and equally perspicuous from the newspapers and movements among this description of men throughout the Union, that the same spirit and intention actuate the whole.
The aim of these men, or their leaders, has been to produce a change in the public opinion, which is to overthrow present power, and perhaps institutions. In this work, they have not been deterred by defeats, and have certainly made considerable progress. They skilfully seize on every circumstance, which can be made to conduce to their object. A word said by a Federalist, against any law or measure of the government, is carefully noted and adroitly used to give a false coloring to the intentions of government. Nothing, in short, escapes them, that can be pervert- . ed or malignantly applied to their purpose.
It is among other things to be lamented, that certain recent measures of the administration were of such a nature, as to offer an appearance of favoring individual merchants, which could not without a public injury be openly explained ; and that some of the gentlemen of the administration have not, by their conversation on the subject, assisted to remove the suspicions industriously propagated by the opposition. I allude particularly to the mission to Toussaint, to St. Domingo, and the supplies sent in the vessel, which carried thither the agent.
To open with St. Domingo a free trade, to put an effectual stop to privateering from that Island, and to set an example, which might extend to other French possessions, it was necessary to accompany the agent with certain articles, which would prove acceptable to Toussaint in the then situation of his affairs and wants of the Island. The law, which enabled the President to open trade with any part of the French possessions, did not authorize him to procure such means, as appeared to be indispensable, in this case, to give success to the attempt. There was no appropriation for the purpose ; and to have taken the means from existing funds, appropriated to distinct objects, would have required a communication to Congress, which would probably have occasioned an investigation into all circumstances of the appropriation. Thus situated, it was determined to permit the owners of the vessel, which was to carry out the agent, to ship the articles wanted by Toussaint at their own risk and account, limiting their profit to such a sum, as would pay them for the expense of the voyage only. This was procuring for Toussaint the articles, which he most wanted, at a price far below what he could have obtained them for in any other way, while it relieved from the embarrassments, which would have attended any application of the public money for that object.
This measure has been made an instrument of against the administration. It has been accused of granting partial favors, which could not possibly have been extended. There has also been confounded with the measure, to
sow disaffection among the merchants, the use which the agent is said to have made of his situation to purchase on his arrival at St. Domingo large quantities of its produce, thereby enhancing the price upon the adventurers when the trade was opened.
How far this allegation may be founded I cannot say, or whether, had any other person
than Dr. Stevens been the agent, the same complaint would not have been made. The merchants, I understand, also complain, that the agent is either a merchant, or connected profitably with merchants, which gives a bias to his conduct. If he discovers partiality in executing the duties he is charged with, it is a reason for his removal; but you know, that the practice has been to vest merchants with the consular office. I have learned from the Secretary of State, that Dr. Stevens has the ear and confidence of Toussaint in a very high degree. To retain this is important; but, should he have made an improper use of his situation, it ought not to prevent his being superseded.
Another point on which opposition dwells, with uncommon energy and perseverance, is the charge of British influence. I am informed that Mr. Dallas has in his possession a letter from Mr. Adams to Mr. Tench Coxe, written at the time and on the occasion of the appointment of Mr. Pinckney to London as minister plenipotentiary, in which he ascribes his appointment to British influence, and adds, that, were he of the administration, he should think it proper to watch attentively the course of things, or words to that effect. This letter I also understand is to be produced on the trial of Duane, and his defence rested upon substantiating the charge. It is also said to be intended to call upon you and the President to give information in the case.
When I consider the difference in opinion between his ministers and the President, the effects this has produced on the public mind, and may produce, particularly among Federalists; the different opinions entertained by Federalists relative to the policy and wisdom of the mission; the additional strength, which the calumny of British influence must derive from the letter alluded VOL. XI. 73