History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution/Chapter XXXI
The narration of the revolutionary war between Great Britain and her former colonies brought down to its termination leaves the mind at leisure for more general observations on the subsequent consequences, without confining it to time or place.
At the conclusion of the war between Great Britain and America, after the rejection of the claims of a potent foreign nation, the dissevering of old bands of governmental arrangement, and before new ones were adopted, the proud feelings of personal independence warmed every bosom, and the general ideas of civil and religious liberty were disseminated far and wide.
On the restoration of peace, the soldier had returned to the bosom of his family, and the artisan and the husbandman were stimulated to new improvements; genius was prompted to exertion, by the wide field opened by the Revolution, and encouraged by the spirit of inquiry to climb the heights of literature, until it might stand conspicuous on the summit of fame.
Under such circumstances, every free mind should be tenacious of supporting the honor of a national character and the dignity of independence. This claim must be supported by their own sobriety, economy, industry, and perseverance in every virtue. It must be nurtured by that firmness and principle that induced their ancestors to fly from the hostile arm of tyranny, and to explore and begin a new nation in the forlorn and darksome bosom of a distant wilderness. The social compacts, the religion, the manners, and the habits of these wandering strangers, and their immediate successors taught their sons the noble example of fortitude and love of freedom, that has led them to resist the encroachments of kings and nobles, and to dissipate the cloud that threatened to envelope the mind in darkness, and spread the veil of ignorance over the bright hemisphere that encircles the children of Columbia.
Indeed, America was at this period possessed of a prize, replete with advantages seldom thrown into the hand of any people. Divided by nature from three parts of the globe, which have groaned under tyrants of various descriptions, from time immemorial, who have slaughtered their millions to feed the ambition of princes, she was possessed of an immense territory, the soil fertile and productive, her population increasing, her commerce unfettered, her resources ample. She was now uncontrolled by foreign laws; and he domestic manufactures might be encouraged, without any fear of check from abroad; and under the influence of a spirit of enterprise, very advantageous in a young country, she was looking forward with expectations of extending her commerce to every part of the globe.
Nothing seemed to be wanting to the United States but a continuance of their union and virtue. It was their interest to cherish true, genuine republican virtue, in politics; and in religion, a strict adherence to a sublime code of morals, which has never been equaled by the sages of ancient time, nor can ever be abolished by the sophistical reasonings of modern philosophers. Possessed of this palladium, American might bid defiance both to foreign and domestic intrigue, and stand on an eminence that would command the veneration of nations, and the respect of their monarch; but a defalcation of these principles may leave the sapless vine of liberty to droop, or to be rooted out by the hand that had been stretched out to nourish it.
If, instead of the independent feelings of ancient republics, whose prime object was the welfare and happiness of their country, we should see a dereliction of those principles, and the Americans ready to renounce their great advantages, by the imitation of European systems in politics and manners, it would be a melancholy trait in the story of man. Yet, they, like other nations, may in time, by their servility to men in power, or by a chimerical pursuit of the golden fleece of poets, become involved in a mist ascending from the pit of avarice. This may lead to peculation, to usurious contracts, to illegal and dishonest projects, and to every private vice, to support the factitious appearances of grandeur and wealth which can never maintain the claim to that rich inheritance which they so bravely defended.
Thus it was but a short time after the restoration of peace and the exhilarating view of the innumerable benefits obtained by the general acknowledgment among foreign nations of the independence of America, before the brightened prospect, which had recently shone with so much splendor, was beclouded by the face of general discontent. New difficulties arose, and embarrassments thickened, which called for the exercise of new energies, activity, and wisdom.
The sudden sinking of the value of landed, and, indeed, of all other real property, immediately on the peace, involved the honest and industrious farmer in innumerable difficulties. The produce of a few acres had been far from sufficient for the support of a family, and at the same time supply the necessary demands for the use of the army, when from the scarcity of provisions every article thereof bore an enhanced price, while their resources were exhausted, and their spirits wasted under an accumulated load of debt.
The General Congress as yet without any compulsory powers to enforce the liquidation of public demands; and the state legislatures totally at a loss how to devise any just and ready expedient for the relief of private debtors. It was thought necessary by some to advert gain to a paper medium, and by others this was viewed with the utmost abhorrence. Indeed, the iniquitous consequences of a depreciating currency had been recently felt too severely by all classes to induce any to embrace a second time with cordiality such a dangerous expedient. Thus, from various circumstances, the state of both public and private affairs presented a very serious and alarming aspect.
The patriotic feelings of the yeomanry of the country had prompted them to the utmost exertions for the public service. Unwilling to withhold their quota of the tax of beef, blankets, and other necessaries indispensable for the soldiery, exposed to cold and hunger, many of them had been induced to contract debts which could not be easily liquidated, and which it was impossible to discharge by the products from the usual occupations of husbandry. While at the same time, the rage for privateering and traffic, by which some had suddenly grown rich, had induced others to look with indifference on the ideas of more moderate accumulation of wealth. They sold their patrimonial inheritance for trifling considerations in order to raise ready specie for adventure in some speculative project. This, with many other causes, reduced the price of land to so low a rate that the most valuable farms and the best accommodated situations were depreciated to such a degree that those who were obliged to alienate real property were bankrupted by the sales.
The state of trade and the derangement of commercial affairs were equally intricate and distressing at the close of the war. The natural eagerness of the mercantile body to take every advantage that presented in that line, induced many, immediately on the peace, to send forward for large quantities of goods from England, France, and Holland, and wherever else they could gain a credit. Thus the markets loaded with every article of luxury, as well as necessaries, and the growing scarcity of specie united with the reduced circumstances of many who had formerly been wealthy, the enormous importations either lay upon hand, or obliged the possessor to sell without any advance, and in many instances much under the prime cost. In addition to these embarrassments on the mercantile interest, the whole country, from north to south, was filled with British factors, with their cargoes of good directly from the manufacturers, who drew customers to their stores from all classes that were able to purchase. Every capital was crowded with British agents, sent over to collect debts contracted long before the war, who took advantage of the times, oppressed the debtor, and purchased public securities from all persons whose necessities obliged them to sell, at the monstrous discount of 17 shillings and 6 pence on the pound. At the same time, the continent swarmed with British emissaries, who sowed discord among the people, infused jealousies, and weakened their reliance on the public faith, and destroyed all confidence between man and man.
Nor did religion or morals appreciate amid the confusion of a long war, which is ever unfavorable to virtue, and to all those generous principles which ennoble the human character, much more than ribbons, stars, and other playthings of a distempered imagination. These soon sink to the level of their own insignificance, and leave the sanguine admirer sickened by the chase of ideal felicity.
The wide field of more minute observation on these great and important subjects shall at present be waved. Agriculture may be left to the philosophic theorist, who may speculate on the real value and product of the lands, in a country in such an improvable state as that of America; while the advance in the profits of the husbandman must be estimated by the ratio of future experiment. The statesman versed in the commerce and politics of Europe, and the commercial treaties which may be or have already been formed has a labyrinth to trace, and investigations to unfold, before everything can be fixed on the principles of equity and reciprocity, that will give complete satisfaction to all nations. Religious discussions we leave to the observation of the theologian, who, however human nature may be vilified by some and exalted by others, traces the moral causes and effects that operate on the soul of man. The effects only are level to the common eye, which weep that the result is more frequently productive of misery than felicity to his fellow beings.
Besides the circumstances already hinted, various other combinations caused a cloud of chagrin to fit on almost every brow, and a general uneasiness to pervade the bosoms of most of the inhabitants of America. This was discoverable on every occasion. They complained of the governments of their own instituting and of Congress, whose powers were too feeble for the redress of private wrongs, or the more public and general purposes of government.They murmured at the commutation which Congress had agreed to for the compensation of the army. They felt themselves under the pressure of burdens for which they had not calculated; the pressure of debts and taxes beyond their ability to pay. These discontents artificially wrought up, by men who wished for a more strong and splendid government, broke out into commotion in many parts of the country, and finally terminated in open insurrection in some of the states.
This general uneasy and refractory spirit had for some time shown itself in the states of New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and some other portions of the union; but the Massachusetts seemed to be the seat of sedition. Bristol, Middlesex, and the western countries, Worcester, Hampshire, and Berkshire, were more particularly culpable. The people met in country conventions, drew up addresses to the General Assembly to which were annexed long lists of grievances, some of them real, others imaginary. They drew up many resolves, some of which were rational, others unjust, and most of them absurd in the extreme. They censured the conduct of the officers of government, called for a revision of the constitution, voted the Senate and judicial courts to be grievances, and proceeded in a most daring and insolent manner to prevent the sitting of the courts of justice in several counties.
The ignorance [Some of them indeed were artful and shrewd, but most of them were deluded and persuaded to attempt, by resistance to government, to relieve themselves from debts which they could not pay, and from the hand of tax-gatherers, who had distrained in some instance to the last article of their property.] of this incendiary and turbulent set of people, might lead them to a justification of their own measures, from a recurrence to transactions in some degree similar in the early opposition to British government. They had neither the information, nor the sagacity to discern the different grounds of complaint. Nor could they make proper distinctions with regard to the oppressions complained of under the crown of Britain, and the temporary burdens they now felt, which are ever the concomitants and consequences of war. They knew that a successful opposition had been made to the authority of Britain, while they were under the dominion of the King of England; but they were too ignorant to distinguish between an opposition to regal despotism, and a resistance to a government recently established by themselves.
County meetings and conventions and the opposition of the body of the people to submit to judiciary proceedings in direct violation of their charter and the stipulated indulgences which they claimed in common with their fellow subjects in Great Britain, wore a very different aspect from those of the clamorous and tumultuary proceedings of the Massachusetts' insurgents. These were violating the constitutions of their own forming, and endeavoring to prostrate all legal institutions before they were cemented on the strong basis of a firm and well-established government.
Those disturbances were for a time truly alarming and gave cause for serious apprehensions that civil convulsions might spread through the country within the short term of three or four years after independence had been established, and peace restored to the United States of America. Under existing circumstances, the high-handed and threatening proceedings of the insurgents wore a very formidable aspect. There were among them very many men hardy, bold, and veteran, who had been very serviceable in the field during the late Revolutionary War. They had assembled in great numbers, in various places, and at different times, and seemed to bid defiance to all law, order an government.
In the winter of 1786, several thousand of those disorderly persons armed and embodied and appeared in the environs of Springfield. They chose for their leader a man who had been a subaltern officer [Daniel Shays.] in the Revolutionary War, threatened to march to Boston, and by compulsory measures oblige the governor and General Assembly to redress the grievances of the people, which they alleged were brought on them by enormous taxation and other severities from their own government. They, however, thought proper to send forward a petition, instead of marching sword in hand to the capital.
In the mean time, the exertions and the resolves of the legislative body, with a view of relieving the public distress, only increased the discontents of the people. They were much divided in opinion, relative to the best modes of quieting the disturbances. Tender laws and sumptuary regulations were superficial expedients, that, like paper money, eventually would increase, rather than eradicate the evils complained of; while the temper of the people of various descriptions, and from various motives, augured an approaching crisis that might produce convulsions too extensive for calculation.
In this situation of affairs, the governor was empowered by the legislature to order a military force to be in readiness to march under the command of General Lincoln. The temerity of the insurgents had emboldened them to move forward in hostile array, which made it necessary to direct General Lincoln to a check to their insolvence and to restore peace and order to the state. But before the troops from the lower counties had collected at Worcester, great numbers of the insurgents had embodied and moved forward to Springfield, with a design to attack the continental arsenal. This was defended by General Shepard, who took every precaution to prevent the shedding of blood. He expostulated with their leaders and warned them against the fatal consequences of perseverance in their rebellious and hostile proceedings. they, however, neglected the warning and rushed on in the face of danger. This obliged General Shepard to fire on them, which so disconcerted them that they immediately retreated. General Lincoln reached Springfield about the same time, which entirely defeated this project. The field was left with dismay, and with the loss only of two or three of their party. The next movement of any importance was their again collecting from all quarter and taking a position on the heights of Pelham.
General Lincoln, unwilling to see his countrymen involved in a war among themselves, passed on to Hadley without proceeding to extremities. There he received letters from some of the leaders of the insurgent parties, and with his usual mildness and humanity endeavored to persuade them to quit their hostile parade and by their peaceable demeanor to render themselves worthy of the lenity of government, which was ready, on their return to proper submission, to extend a general pardon, and throw a veil of oblivion over past transactions. But there appeared no signs of repentance or of a relinquishment of their atrocious projects; and though without system or any determinate object and with out men of talents to direct or even to countenance their disorderly conduct, in any stage of the business, they soon moved from Pelham in a strong body, entered and halted in the town of Petersham.
General Lincoln heard of the decampment of Shays and his followers from Pelham at 12 o'clock and had certain intelligence by the hour of six that they had moved on to Petersham. Convinced of the necessity of a quick march, he ordered his troops to be ready at a moment's warning. By 8 o'clock, they began their route. Notwithstanding the intrepidity of General Lincoln, when immediate hazard required enterprise, he would not have exposed his troops to a march of 30 miles in one of the severest nights of a remarkably severe winter had not the entrance of the evening been mild an serene. The sky unclouded and the moon in full splendor, they began their march under the promise of a more easy termination; but after a few hours, the wind rose, the clouds gathered blackness, and the cold was so intense that it was scarcely supportable by the hardiest of his followers. Nothing but the quickness of their motion prevented many of his men from falling victims to the severity of the season. The difficulty of their march was increased by a deep snow that had previously fallen and lain so uncemented that the gusts drove it in the faces of the army with the violence of a rapid snow storm. They, however, reached Petersham before 9 o'clock the next morning, but so miserably fatigued and frost-bitten that few of them were fit for service; and had not a general panic seized the insurgents on the first alarm of the approach of the government troops, they might have met them with great slaughter, if not with total defeat; but through in warm quarters, well supplied with arms and provisions, they left this advantageous post with the greatest precipitation, and fled in all directions.
General Lincoln was not in a capacity for immediate pursuit. It was necessary to halt and refresh his men. Besides, his known humanity was such that he might be willing they should scatter and disappear without being pushed to submission by the point of the sword. The insurgents never again appeared in a collective body, but spread themselves over the several parts of the western counties and even into the neighboring states, plundering, harassing, and terrifying the inhabitants, and nourishing the seeds of discontent and sedition that had before been scattered among them. It was not long before General Lincoln pursued and captured many of them, who implored and experienced the clemency of the commander, and only a few were taken into custody for future trial. Thus those internal commotions, which had threatened a general convulsion, were so far quelled that most of the troops returned to Boston early in the spring. Before his return, General Lincoln marched to the borders of the state and found many in the counties Hampshire and Berkshire ready to take the oath of allegiance, with all the marks of contrition for their late guilty conduct. Commissioners were afterwards sent forward, with powers to pardon, after due inquiry into the present temper and conduct of individuals; to administer the oath of allegiance to the penitent and to restore to the confidence of their country all such as were not stigmatized by flagitious and murderous conduct.
Perhaps no man could have acted with more firmness, precision, and judgment than did Governor Bowdoin, through the turbulent period of two years in which he presided in the Massachusetts. Yet, notwithstanding his conspicuous talents and the public and private virtues which adorned his character, the popular current set strongly against him on approaching annual election; and governor Hancock, who had once resigned the chair, was again requested to resume his former dignified station, and was brought forward and chosen with eclat and expectation. He did not, however, contravene the wise measures of his predecessor. He was equally vigilant to quiet the perturbed spirits of the people and to restore general tranquility. This he did by coercive and lenient measures, as circumstances required; and by his disinterested conduct and masterly address, he was very influential in overcoming the remains of factious and seditious spirit that had prevailed. Thus he did himself much honor, and acquired the applause of his constituents.
The governor was authorized by the legislature to keep in pay any number of troops that might be thought necessary to preserve the public peace. Eight hundred men were stationed on the western borders of the state but before the summer elapsed, the insurgents were so generally subdued that the troops were recalled and dismissed.
The governors of all the neighboring states had been requested not to receive or protect any of the guilty party, who had fled for security within their limits. These were all so sensibly impressed with the danger of disunion and anarchy, which had threatened the whole, that they readily gave assurances of detection, if any should flatter themselves with impunity, by flying without the jurisdiction of their own government. Several of the most notorious offenders were secured and tried by the supreme judicial court, and received sentence of death; but the compassion of the people, coinciding with the humane disposition of the governor, induced him to grant reprieves from time to time, and finally prevented the loss of life by the hand of civil justice in a single instance.
Thus, by well-time lenity, and decided energy, as the exigencies of the moment required, as terminated an insurrection that, by it dangerous example, threatened the United States with a general rupture, that might have been more fatal than foreign war, to their freedom, virtue, and prosperity. But though the late disturbances were quelled, and the turbulent spirit which had been so alarming was subdued by a small military force, yet it awakened all to a full view of the necessity of concert and union in measures that might preserve their internal peace. This required the regulation of commerce on some stable principles, and some steps for the liquidation of both public and private debts. They also saw it necessary to invest Congress with sufficient powers for the execution of their own laws, for all general purposes relative to the union.
A convention was appointed by the several states to meet at Annapolis, in the state of Maryland, in the year 1786, for these salutary purposes; but the work was too complicated. The delegates separated without doing anything, and a new convention was called the next year to meet at Philadelphia, with the same design, but without any enlargement of their powers. They, however, framed a new constitution of government, and sent it for the consideration and adoption of the several states; and though it was thought by many to be too strongly marked with the features of monarchy, it was, after much discussion, adopted by a majority of the states.
We must consult the human heart, says the Marquis Beccaria, for the foundation of the rights of both sovereign and people. "If we look into history, we shall find that laws which are or ought to be conventions between men in a state of freedom have been for the most part, the work of the passions of a few, or the consequences of a fortuitous temporary necessity, not dictated by a cool examiner of human nature, who knew how to collect in one point the actions of a multitude and had this only end in view, the greatest happiness of the greatest number."
It was thought by some, who had been recently informed of the secret transactions of the the convention at Philadelphia, that the greatest happiness of the greatest number was not the principal object of their contemplations, when they ordered their doors to be locked, their members inhibited from all communications abroad, and when the proposals were made that their journals should be burnt, lest their consultations and debates should be viewed by the scrutinizing eyes of a free people. [This convention was composed of some gentlemen of the first character and abilities; of some men of shining talents and doubtful character. Some of them were uniform republications, others decided monarchists, with a few neutrals, ready to join the strongest party. It was not strange there was much clashing and debate where such dissentient opinions existed. but after some modification and concession, a constitution was formed which, when the amendments took place immediately on its adoption, the government of the United States stood on a basis which rendered the people respectable abroad and safe at home.] These extraordinary movements appeared to them the result of the passions of a few. It is certain that truth, whether moral, philosophical, or political, shrinks not from the eye of the investigation.
The ideas of royalty, or anything that wore the appearance of regal forms and institutions, were generally disgusting to Americans, and particularly so to many characters who early came forward and continued to the end of the conflict, steadfast in opposition to the Crown of Britain. They thought that after America had encountered the power, an obtained a release from foreign bondage and had recently overcome domestic difficulties and discontents and even quieted the spirit of insurrection in their own states; that the republic system for which had had fought should not be hazarded by vesting any man or body of men with powers that might militate with the principles which had been cherished with fond enthusiasm by a large majority of the inhabitants throughout the union.
Republicanism, the idol of some men, and independence, the glory of all, were thought by many to be in danger of dwindling into theory. The first had been defaced for a time by a degree of anarchy, and fears were now awakened that the last might be annihilated by view of private ambition.
The people were generally dissatisfied with the high pretensions of the officers of the army, whose equality of condition previous to the war as, with few exceptions, on the same grade with themselves. The assumption of an appropriate rank was disgusting, in a set of men, who had most of them been taken from mechanic employments, or the sober occupations of agriculture. Thus jealousies for diffused with regard to the officers of the old army, the Cincinnati, and several other classes of men whom they suspected as cherishing hopes and expectations of erecting a government too splendid for the taste and professions of Americans. They saw a number of young gentlemen coming forward, ardent and sanguine in the support of the principles of monarchy and aristocracy. They saw a number of professional characters too ready to relinquish former opinions, and adopt new ones more congenial to the policy of courts than to the maxims of a free people. They saw some apostate Whigs in public employments, and symptoms of declension in others, which threatened the annihilation of the darling opinion that the whole sovereignty in the republic system is in the people, "that the people have a right to amend and alter, or annul their constitution and frame a new one, whenever they shall think it will better promote their own welfare and happiness to do it."
This brought forward objections to the proposed constitution of government then under consideration. These objections were not the result of ignorance. They were made by men of the first abilities in every state; men who were sensible of the necessity of strong and energetic institutions, and a strict subordination and obedience to law. These judicious men were solicitous that everything should be clearly defined. They were jealous of each ambiguity in law or government, or the smallest circumstance that might have a tendency to curtail the republican system, or render ineffectual the sacrifices they had made, or the security of civil and religious liberty to themselves. They also wished for the transmission of the enjoyment of the equal rights of man to their latest posterity. They were of opinion that every article that admitted of doubtful construction should be amended before it became the supreme law of the land. They were now apprehensive of being precipitated, without due consideration, into the adoption of a system that might bind them and their posterity in the chains of despotism, while they held up the ideas of a free and equal participation of the privileges of pure and genuine republicanism.
Warm debates in favor of further consideration, and much energetic argument took place, between gentlemen of the first abilities, in several of the state conventions. The system was, however, ratified in haste by a sufficient number of states to carry it into operation, and amendments left to the wisdom, justice, and decision of future generations, according as exigencies might require. [Many amendments were made soon after the adoption of the Constitution.] This was not sufficient to dissipate the apprehensions of gentlemen who had been uniform and upright in their intentions and immovably fixed in the principles of the Revolution, and had never turned their eyes from the point in pursuit, until the independence of America was acknowledged by the principal monarchs in Europe.
But while the system was under discussion, strong objections were brought forward in the conventions of the several states. Those gentlemen who were opposed to the adoption of the new Constitution in toto, observed that there was no Bill of Rights to guard against future innovations. They complained that the trial by jury in civil causes was not secured. They observed that some of the warmest partisans, who had been disposed to adopt without examination, had stated at the discovery that this essential right was curtailed; that the powers of the executive and judiciary were dangerously blended; that the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Federal Court subjected the inhabitants of the United States, by a litigious process that militated with the rights formerly claimed by the individual states, to be drawn from one end of the continent to the other for trail. They wished for a rotation in office or some sufficient bar against the perpetuity of it, in the same hands for life. They thought it necessary there should be this check to the overbearing influence of office, and that every man should be rendered ineligible at certain periods, to keep the mind in equilibrium, and teach him the feelings of the governed, and better qualify him to govern in his turn. It was also observed by them that all sources of revenue formerly possessed by the individual states were now under the control of Congress.
Subsequent measures were not yet realized. Banks, monopolies, and a funding system were projects that had never been thought of in the early stages of an infant republic, and had they been suggested before the present period, would have startled both the soldier and the peasant. The sober-principled statesmen, and the judicious band of worthies who originated the system of freedom, digested it in the cabinet and conducted the public councils which led to the independence of America, with a firm, disinterested magnanimity, and an energy seldom found in the courts of princes, would have revolted at those ideas. Nor were they less alarmed at the contemplation of a president with princely powers, a sextennial senate, biennial elections of representatives, and a federal city, "whose cloud-capt towers" might screen the state culprit from the hand of justice, while its exclusive jurisdiction might, in some future day, protect the riot of standing armies encamped within its limits. These were prospects viewed by them with the utmost abhorrence.
Indeed, the opinions of the gentlemen who formed the general convention differed very widely on many of the articles of the new Constitution, before it was sent abroad for the discussion of the people at large. Some of them seceded and retired without signing at all, others complied from a conviction of the necessity of accommodation and concession, lest they should be obliged to separate without any efficient measures that would produce the salutary purposes for which many characters of the first abilities had been convened. The philosophic Doctor Franklin observed when he lent his signature to the adoption of the new Constitution, "that its complexion was doubtful; that it mightlast for ages, involve one quarter of the globe, and probably terminate in despotism." [See Doctor Franklin's speech on his singing the articles of the new Constitution of government which was to be laid before the people.] He signed the instrument for the consolidation of the government of the United States with tears, and apologized for doing it at all, from the doubts and apprehensions he felt that his countrymen might not be able to do better, even if they called a new convention.
Many of the intelligent yeomanry and of the great bulk of independent landholders who had tasted the sweets of mediocrity, equality, and liberty read every unconditional ratification of the new system in silent anguish, folded the solemn page with a sigh, and wept over the manes of the native sons of America, who had sold their lives to leave the legacy of freedom to their children. On this appearance of a consolidated government, which they thought required such important amendments, they feared that a dereliction of some of their choicest privileges might be sealed, without duly considering the fatal consequences of too much precipitation. "The right of taxation, and the command of the military," says an ingenious writer, "is the completion of despotism." The last of these was consigned to the hands of the president and the first they feared would be too much under his influence. The observers of human conduct were not insensible that too much power vested in the hands of any individual was liable to abuses, either from his own passions, or the suggestions of others, of less upright and immaculate intentions than himself.
Of thirteen state conventions to which the constitution was submitted, those of Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Georgia ratified it unconditionally, and those of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Virginia, and South Carolina, in full confidence of amendments which they thought necessary, and proposed to the first Congress. The other two, Rhode Island and North Carolina, rejected it. Thus, it is evident that a majority of the states were convinced that the Constitution, as at first proposed, endangered their liberties; that to the opposition in the federal state conventions are the public indebted for the amendments and amelioration of the Constitution, which have united all parties in the vigorous support of it; and that in a land of freedom, sovereignty, and independence, the great and important affairs of state will be finally subject to reason, justice, and sound policy.
Thus, notwithstanding the many dark appearances that for a time spread a cloud over the United States; notwithstanding the apprehensions and prejudices against the new Constitution, which had pervaded the minds of many; though strong parties had arisen, and acrimonious divisions were fomented, on the great and important question of ratification; yet, by the mode adopted by five states, of proposing amendments at the time of ratifying it, the fears of the people in general evaporated by degrees. The new Constitution was adopted with applause and success, ad the promise and expectations of amendments, flattered all classes with every advantage that could be rationally expected.
The new system of government was ushered into existence under peculiar advantages; and no circumstance tended more rapidly to dissipate every unfavorable impression than the unanimous choice of a gentleman to the presidential chair, at once meritorious popular, and beloved, beyond any man. Washington, the favorite of every class of people, was placed at the head of a government of experiment and expectation. Had any character of less popularity and celebrity been designated this high trust, it might at this period have endangered, if not have proved fatal to the peace of the union. Though some thought the executive vested with too great powers to be entrusted to the hand of any individual, Washington was an individual in whom they had the most unlimited confidence.
After the dissolution of the American army, and the retirement of the commander in chief from the conspicuous station in which he had been placed, the celebrity of this life and manners, associated with the circumstances of a remarkable Revolution, in which he always stood on the foreground, naturally turned the eyes of all toward him. The hearts of the whole continent were united to give him their approbatory voice, as the most suitable character in the United States to preside at the head of civil government.
The splendid insignia of military command laid aside, the voluntary retirement of General Washington had raised his reputation to the zenith of human glory. Had he persevered in his resolution never again to engage in the thorny path of public life, his repose might have been forever insured in the delightful walks of rural occupation. He might, in his retirement on Mount Vernon, have cherished those principles of republicanism which he always professed, as well as the patriotism which he exhibited in the field; and by his disinterested example he might have checked the aspiring ambition of some of his former associates and handed down his own name to posterity with redoubled luster. [This was the opinion of some of his most intimate associates at the time; yet doubtless General Washington thought it his duty to aid his country at so critical an era.] but man, after long habits of activity, in the meridian of applause, is generally restless in retirement. The difficulty of entirely quitting the luminous scenes on the great stage of public action is often exemplified in the most exalted characters. Thus, even the dignified Washington could not, amid the bustle of the world, become a calm, disinterested spectator of the transactions of statesmen and politicians. His most judicious friends were confident he had no fame to acquire and wished him to remain on the pinnacle he had already reached. But, urged by the strong voice of his native state, and looked up to by every state in the union, the call was strong and impressive, and he again came forward in public life, though it appeared to be in counteraction of his former determinations.
Thus the former commander of the armies of America had been chosen one of the delegates for a general convention of the states, and lent his hand to the formation of a new Constitution of civil government. This instrument, as above observed, appeared to the public eye to lie open to many objections. It was viewed a doubtful in its origin, dangerous in its aspect, and for a time very alarming to the feelings of men, who were tremblingly alive on the smallest encroachment of rights and privileges, for which they had sacrificed their fortunes, immolated their friends, and risked their own lies. General Washington himself observed when he signed the new Constitution that "it was an experiment on which the destiny of the republican model of government was staked." But the system was adopted with expectations of amendment, and the experiment proved salutary, and has ultimately redounded as much to the honor and interest of America as any mode or form of government that could have been devised by the wisdom of man.
It is beyond a doubt that no man in the union had it so much in his power to assimilate the parties, conciliate the affections, and obtain a general sanction to the new Constitution as a gentleman who commanded their obedience in the field, and had won the veneration, respect, and affections of the people, in the most distant parts of the union. Yet, soon after the organization of the new Constitution of government, a struggle began to take place between monarchists and republicans, the consequences of which some future period must disclose. From a variety of new sources; of new objects of magnificence opening before them; of new prospects of wealth anticipated, the spirit of intrigue was matured even among the politicians of yesterday. Some of them were sighing for more liberty, without discretion or judgment to make a proper use of what they already possessed. Others were grasping at powers which neither reason nor law, constitutions of their won forming, nor the feelings of nature could justify.
Thus it appeared, convulsions might ensure, great conflicts be sustain, and great spirits be subdued before the minds of every class could be perfectly tranquilized, even under the wisest system of human government. But such a people s the Americans cannot suddenly be reduced to a state of slavery; it is a work of time to obliterate old opinions, founded in reason, and fanned by enthusiasm, till they had become a part of the religious creed of a nation. Notwithstanding the apprehensions which have pervaded the mind of many, American will probably long retain a greater share of freedom than can perhaps be found in any other part of the civilized world. This may be more the result of her local situation, than from her superior policy or moderation. From the general equality of fortune which had formerly reigned among them, it may be modestly asserted that most of the inhabitants of America were too proud for monarchy, yet too poor for nobility, and it is to be feared, too selfish and avaricious for a virtuous republic.
The people of America, however, were not yet prepared, like the ungrateful Israelites, to ask a king, nor were their spirit sufficiently broken to yield the "best of their olive grounds to her servants, or to see their sons appointed to run before his chariots." Yet it was to be regretted that there soon appeared a class of men, who, though taken from the bar, the shop, or the more simple occupations of life, to command armies and to negotiate with foreign nation, had imbibed ideas of distinguished rank and ostentatious titles, incompatible with republican principles, and totally repugnant to the views of the zealous advocates of American freedom. Indeed, many of these had been swept off by the hand of time and death. Those who still lived in the shade of retirement observed with regret that unless counteracted with firmness, the fiat of an individual might become more respected than the general will of the people.
There yet remained a considerable class of these firm adherents to the principles of the Revolution. They were strongly impressed with the necessity of an energetic government and the weakness of the old confederation. They were also sensible of the many difficulties that must arise in the fiscal arrangements of a people who had been long without a stable medium of trade, while agriculture, commerce, and every other pursuit wore a new face, in consequence of a long war. But they had not contemplated the introduction of new projects, which were thought designed to enrich and ennoble some of the officers of the army, to create a splendid government, and to support the dignity of new orders in the state. These were articles that had made no part of their creed.
The spirit of finance, which, a sensible writer observes, "accumulates woes on the head of a people, by stripping them of the means of subsistence, and what is infinitely more to be regretted, saps the foundations of morality," had heretofore been only the dream of some overgrown public creditor. A funding system afterwards introduced, attended with all the intricacies of more aged financiers, which never could be understood, and a public debt thereby enhanced, which was probably never intended to be paid, was impregnated in the brain of a young officer [Alexander Hamilton] of foreign extraction, an adventurer of a bold genius, active talents, and fortunate combinations, from his birth to the exalted station to which he was lifted by the spirit of favoritism in American arrangements. Yet when the system appeared, it as embraced with warmth by a considerable class, as the legitimate child of speculation. But it appeared a monster in the eye of a very large part of the community, who viewed it as the parent of a national debt that would hang on the neck of American to the latest generations.
Hence, a train of restless passions were awakened that excited to activity an created a rage for project, speculation, and various artifices to support a factitious dignity, which finally ruined multitudes of unsuspecting citizens. Hence, a spirit of public gambling, speculation in paper, in lands, in everything else, to a degree unparalleled in any nation. Many other contingencies were felt too severely to require a particular specification.
When General Washington was placed in the presidential chair, he doubtless felt all the solicitude for the discharge of his duty which such a sacred deposit entrusted to his integrity would naturally awaken. His own reputation was blended with the administration of government on those principles of republicanism which he had always professed and which he had supported by his sword; while time, circumstances, and interests had changed the opinions of many influential characters.
Thus, the favored and beloved Washington, called from his first retirement to act as chief magistrate in the administration of civil government, whatever measures he sanctioned were considered as the best, the wisest, and most just by a great majority of the people. In most instances, it is true, he presided with wisdom, dignity, and moderation, but complete perfection is not to be attributed to man. Undue prejudices and partialities often imperceptibly creep into the best hearts; and with all the veneration due to so meritorious a character, there were many who though him too much under the influence of military favorites.
A very judicious gentleman, well acquainted with ancient history, and with modern politics, [Letter to the author.] observed during the administration of General Washington that "the president of the United States held the hearts of all America in his hand, from the moment of his elevation to the command of her armies to his honorable retirement to private lie, and from his dignified retreat to his inauguration at New York. Placed in the executive chair by the united voice of all parties, it was expected the chief magistrate, whom flattery endows with all perfection, and to whom justice attribute many excellent qualities, would have felt himself above the partialities that usually hang about the human heart; and that, divesting himself of the little prejudices that obtrude and frequently sully the greatest characters, he would have been of no party in his appointments, and that real merit, whether federal or anti-federal, would have been equally noticed.
"It was not expected that those gentlemen who wished for a more perfect system of government or some amendments to the present would have been cut off from every social and political claim; and that only the officers of the late army, and the devotees to unconditional ratification would have been thought worthy of confidence or place under a government that has yet the minds of a considerable part of the people to soothe, and the affections of a judicious and discerning party to conciliate." [This letter was written before several important amendments were made.]
"True policy should have dictated the most impartial distribution of office in the new arrangement. It is a new and untried experiment into which many of the people think they have been precipitated without time for due consideration. Thy begin to feel the weight of taxes and imposts to which they have not been accustomed. they begin to inquire whether all the late energetic exertions were designed only to subserve the interests of a certain party and to furnish salaries, sinecures, and extravagant compensations for the favorites of the army and the sycophants of power, to the exclusion of all who had not adopted the creed of passive obedience."
A cool examiner, who may hereafter retrospect the period from the establishment of the American Constitution to the close of the administration of the first president will judge, on the detail of facts, whether there was or was not just reason for the above observations. Future historic writers may scrutinize and survey past transactions with due criticism and candor, when whatever may have been observed on any other subject, all will allows that no steps during the civil functions of President Washington were so unpopular as the Indian war, sanctioned by the President soon after the operation of the measures of the new government and his ratification of a treaty with Great Britain, negotiated by John Jay, Esquire. The appointment of this gentleman to a diplomatic character, while Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the nation, was thought very objectionable, and very sensible protest were entered in the Senate against the blending of office. It was thought very incompatible with the principles of the Constitution to act in the double capacity of a negotiator abroad and the first officer of justice at home.
Notwithstanding these objections, Mr. Jay was commissioned and repaired to England, ostensibly to require the surrender of the western posts, the retention of which had brought on the war with the savages, as observed above, and to demand satisfaction for the depredations and spoliations that had for several years been made on American commerce, in defiance of the late treaty of peace. The war in which England as then engaged against France had give a pretext for these spoliations. The happiness and tranquility of the English nation had not appeared to have been much enhanced either by the struggle or the termination of the war with their former colonies. After the pacification of the nations at war, and the conclusion of peace between Great Britain and America, such feuds arose in England from various sources and causes of discontent, as discovered that the nation for a time far from being more tranquilized than a United States, previous to their adoption of the present Constitution.
Indeed, the English nation had few causes of triumph; their system of policy had been everywhere deranged and their fatal mistakes exemplified in the distresses of their eastern dominions, as well as those in the west. The confusion in the East Indies, and the misconduct of their officers there, called aloud for inquiry and reform; and amid the complicated difficulties which embarrassed the measures of administration, their King became insane, the royal family were at variance, and the heir apparent had many causes of discontent, besides the alienation of his parents, which had been some time increasing. The Parliament and the ministry were intriguing for power, and various parties claimed the right to assume the reins of government during the King's disability, and the recollections of all were embittered by a retrospect of the misfortunes they had experienced during the late war. Their losses had been incalculable, nor could the wisest of their statesmen devise methods for the payment of even the interest of the enormous national debt, and the recovery of the nation to that scale of honor, prosperity and grandeur they had formerly enjoyed.
In this summary view of the state of the British nation for the last ten years, a treaty with England was not a very desirable object in the eyes of many of the most judicious statesmen in America. Perhaps no man was better qualified than Mr. Jay to undertake to negotiate a business of so much delicacy and responsibility. He was a gentleman of strict integrity, amiable manners, and complacent disposition; whose talents for negotiation had been evinced by his firmness in conjunction with his colleagues, when they effected a treaty of peace at Paris, in 1783. But while in England, whether from the influence of the Court of St. James or from any predetermined system with regard to England or France or from the yielding softness of a mind, naturally urbane and polite, is uncertain. Yet, whatever might have been the principal operative cause, it is beyond a doubt that Mr. Jay fell from that dignified, manly, independent spirit which ought to have marked an American negotiator. He was led to succumb too far to the dictations of Lord Grenville. This condescension, undoubtedly arose more than the apprehension that he could not do better than from any inclination to swerve from the interests of his country. The consequence was, he agreed to a treaty highly advantageous to Great Britain, degrading to the United States, very offensive to France, the ally of America in the days of her tribulation, and who was now herself at war with Great Britain, in conjunction with most of the European potentates [See treaty of Pilnitze) combined to overthrow the newly established government in France.
This government they had erected through civil convulsions that distorted everything from its ancient form and order. Monarchy was overthrown, their king decapitated, hierarchy abolished, and a superstitious priesthood annihilated, amid the destruction of the lives of thousands of all classes, an a series of such bloody deeds of horror a freeze the soul of humanity on the recollection. These revolutionary scenes in every nation are generally attended with circumstances shocking to the feelings of compassion; yet, undoubtedly all nations have a right to establish such modes and forms of government as a majority of the people shall think most conducive to the general interest. The various causes which contributed to more distressful scenes of barbarity than are usually exhibited in so short a period may be left to the discussion of those who have written or may write the history of the late revolution in France and the character and conduct of that wonderful people.
It was with apparent reluctance that President Washington signed the treaty negotiated by Mr. Jay. He hesitated and observed "that it was pregnant with events." Many gentlemen of the first penetration foresaw and dreaded the consequences of this diplomatic transaction. Some scrupled not to declare that it was not only "pregnant with events," but "with evils." But, notwithstanding it wore so disgusting an aspect to more than one half the citizens of the United States, it was ratified by a majority in the Senate, signed by the President, and became the supreme law of the land.
This ratification created a division of sentiment which was artfully wrought up until a disseveration of opinion appeared throughout the union. In Congress, the parties on every great question seemed nearly equally divided. Each had their partisans. The spirits of the people were agitated and embittered to an alarming degree by the extreme point of opposition in which the instrument was viewed. The whole body of the people were designated under traits of distinction which never ought to exist in the United States; and a struggle took place, the consequences of which some future period must disclose.
It is disgraceful indeed to Americans, who had just broken the shackles of foreign domination, to submit to the unhappy distinction of British or French partisans. But the attachment of many to their old allies, to whom they felt themselves obliged, of many others to the British nation, its modes of government and its commerce, occasioned such a stigma to mark them for a tie.
America should indeed forever have maintained a character of her own, that should have set her on high ground, whence she might have looked on from the pinnacle of independence and peace, and only have pitied the squabbles, the confusion, and the miseries of the European world. A quarter of the globe blessed with all the productions of nature, increasing astonishingly in population, improving rapidly in erudition, arts, and all the sciences necessary to the happiness of man; bounded by a vast ocean, by rivers, by mountains, that have been the wonder of ages, ought forever to hold herself independent on any power on earth.
Imagination may indulge a pleasing reverie and suppose for a moment that if the government of the United States had reared a defense around her sea board, that might have reached to the heavens by her bold inhibitions against all foreign connections or commercial and political intercourse with distant nations, it might have been the best barrier to her peace, liberty, and happiness. But there are no mounds of separation, either natural or artificial, and perhaps had it been practical there should have been, they might have been penetrated by a thirst for wealth; commerce might have shaken them to the foundation, or ambition might have broken down the battlements.
Instead of guarding round the infant republic of America, by a total detachment from foreign connections, affection, or influence, we have already seen the inhabitants of the United States interesting themselves beyond the common feelings of humanity in the operations of European wars, dissensions, politics, and government.
It is not strange that the astonishing revolution in France should be beheld with very extraordinary emotions. The world had viewed the excision of a king, queen, and the royal family of the House of Bourbon. The existing generation had witnessed the extinction of the claims of a long line of ancestral dignitaries, that had been supported from Charlemagne to Louis XVI, under all the appendages of despotism that had oppressed its millions, until they had reached that point of degradation and servility beyond which the elastic mind of man can bend no farther. This yoke was broken, and the bars burst in sunder by the strong hand of the people, and by the operations of a resentment which discovered more than the imaginary reactions of nature, among the inhabitants of a vast domain. This people had been too long viewed as a nation of slaves, and their struggles for freedom and the equal rights of man ought to have been cherished by Americans, who had just obtained their own independence, by a resistance that had cost them much of the best blood of their citizens.
But the Gallican nation at this period was not viewed with that cordiality by some classes in America, which might have been expected. The government of the United States manifestly discovered a coolness to a nation which had so essentially aided the great American cause, in the darkest of its days; a nation with whom the United States had formed treaties and become the allies, from interest, necessity, and gratitude, and to whom they yet felt obligations that could not be easily canceled.
The President had indeed published a proclamation of neutrality, and made great professions of friendship to the Republic of France. He also sent an envoy to reside there, while the government of France was in the hands of the Directory. But it was thought the appointment was not the most judicious.
A character eccentric from youth to declining age; a man of pleasure, pride, and extravagance, fond of the trappings of monarchy, and implicated by a considerable portion of the citizens of America as deficient in principle, as not a suitable person for a resident minister in France at so important a crisis. The Gallican nation was in the utmost confusion. The effervescence of opposition to their revolution boiling high in most parts of Europe. Dissensions were heightening in America, and existing treaties in danger of being shaken. These circumstances required a man of stable principles, and respectability of character, rather than a dexterous agent of political mischief, whose abilities and address were well adapted either for private or court intrigue.
The exigencies of affairs, both at home and abroad, required an American negotiator of different habits and manners. A supercedure took place. Mr. Monroe, a gentleman of unimpeachable integrity, much knowledge and information, united with distinguished abilities, great strength of mind, and a strong attachment to the republican system, was appointed and sent forward by President Washington.
A full detail of the state and situation of France on the arrival of Mr. Monroe in a diplomatic character, the impressions that had been made on the Directory, relative to American affairs, the conduct of his predecessor [Governeur Morris.], and his own negotiations, may be seen at large in a general view afterwards given by him of existing prejudices which had arisen from misrepresentation, neglect, or design, from the excision of the King of France, until the recall and return of Mr. Monroe to his native country. It was generally believed that America derived no advantage from the former minister's repairing to England, after his mission was ended in France. He there continued for some time, fomenting by his letters the jealousies that had already arisen between the United States and the Republic of France.
These jealousies were increased by a variety of causes and the dissensions of party in America arose to such a height as to threaten the dissolution of that strong cement which ought to bind the colonies together forever. These differences of opinion, with the assuming demeanor of some of his officers, who often urged to measures that he neither approved nor wished for, rendered the President of the United States less happy than he was before he sanctioned by his name a treaty which was disgusting to almost every state in the Union, and which perhaps he never would have signed, but from the impressive influence of heads of departments, and other favorites about his person. This was a class of men who had been implicated by a considerable portion of the people as prompting the President of the United States to call out a body of militia, consisting of 15,000 men, ostensibly to subdue a trivial insurrection at the westward, which it was asserted by many judicious persons, acquainted with the circumstances, might have been subdued by 500 only. [See Findley's history of the disturbances in the back parts of Pennsylvania.] They attributed this effort to a wish to try the experiment of the promptitude with which an army might be called forth to subserve the purposes of government, to enhance the dignity of office, and the supreme power of the first magistrate. [General Hamilton was believed to be the prime mover and conductor of this extraordinary business.] There was certainly a class who aimed not so much to promote the honor of the national character as to establish the basis of a standing army, and other projects approaching to despotic sway, which cannot be supported in America, without the aid of that dangerous engine.
It is dangerous indeed for the ear of the chief magistrate to be open to favorites of such a complexion. Such a one will probably neglect his old associates, and confer places on men of not the first abilities in the Union. These are selected only in times of imminent danger; after which their service, integrity and zeal are too frequently repaid by the ingratitude of the people, which joins the cry of the artful, who have never labored in the vineyard, to send them into oblivion.
The men most opposed to the British treaty negotiated in 1794, and who stated their objections on the most rational grounds, were generally those who had been distinguished for their patriotism, firmness, and abilities. They had been very influential in a variety of departments, previous to the year 1775. Nor had they ever relaxed in their energies during the course of the war, to effect the emancipation of their country from the tyranny of the crown of Britain, and to obtain the independence of the United States.
These circumstances, with the approach of a period when nature requires rest, rendered the weight of government oppressive to declining age. The man who had long commanded, in a remarkable manner, the affection, the esteem, and the confidence of his country, again abdicated his power, took leave of the cares of state, and retired a second time from all public occupations, to the delightful retreats of private life, on is highly cultivated farm, on the banks of the Potomac.
Previous to General Washington's second return to his rural amusements, he published a farewell address to the inhabitants of the United States, fraught with advice worthy of the statesman, the hero, and the citizen. He exhorted them to union among themselves, economy in public expenditure, sobriety, temperance, and industry in private life. He solemnly warned them against the danger of foreign influence, exhorted them to observe good faith and justice toward all nations, to cultivate peace and harmony with all, to indulge no inveterate antipathies against any, or passionate attachments for particular nations, but to be constantly awake against the insidious wiles of foreign influence, observing that "this was one of the most baneful foes of republican government." This was indeed, after they were split into factions; after an exotic taste had been introduced into America, which had a tendency to enhance their public and to accumulate their private debts; and after the poison of foreign influence had crept into their councils, and created a passion to assimilate the politics and the government of the United States nearer to the model of European monarchies than the letter of the Constitution, by any fair construction would admit. It was also, after luxury had spread over every class, while the stimulus to private industry was in a degree cut off by the capture of their shipping by the belligerent powers, under various pretenses of the breach of neutrality.
After this period new contingencies arose, and new discussions were required with regard to foreign relations and connections, that had no pacific operation, or any tendency to conciliate the minds, or to quiet the perturbed spirits of existing parties.
The operations and the consequences of the civil administration of the first president of the United States, notwithstanding the many excellent qualities of his heart, and the virtues which adorned his life, have since been viewed at such opposite points that further strictures on his character and conduct shall be left to future historians, after time has mollified the passions and prejudices of the present generation. A new Constitution, and an extensive government, in which he acted eight years as chief magistrate, open a new field of observations, for future pens to descant on the merits or demerits of a man, admired abroad, beloved at home, and celebrated through half the globe. This will be done according to the variety of opinions which will ever exist among mankind, when character is surveyed in the cool moments of calm philosophy, which contemplates the nature and passions of man, and the contingent circumstances that lift him to the skies or leave him in the shad of doubtful opinion.
Public opinion is generally grounded on truth; but the enthusiasm to which the greatest part of mankind are liable, often urges the passions to such a degree of extravagance, as to confound the just ratio of praise or reproach; but the services and merits of General Washington are so deeply engraved on the hearts of his countrymen, that no time or circumstance will or ought ever to efface the luster of his well-earned reputation.
We have already seen that after the peace, the infant confederated states exhibited scenes and disclosed projects that open too wide a field for discussion to bring down a regular historical work, farther than the moment when winds up the drama of the military, political, and civil administration of a man, whose name will have a conspicuous place in all future historical records.
History may not furnish an example of a person so generally admired, and possess of equal opportunities for making himself the despotic master of the liberties of his country, who had the moderation repeatedly to divest himself of all authority and retire to private life with the sentiments expressed by himself in the close of his farewell address. He three observed, "I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow citizens the benign influence of good laws under a free government -- the ever favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers."
The commander of the armies of the United States has been conducted from the field of war, and from the zenith of civil command to the delicious retreats of peaceful solitude. We now leave him in the shade of retirement, with fervent wishes that he may wind up the career of human life in that tranquility which becomes the hero and the Christian.
The administration of his immediate successor we shall also leave, after some general observations on the character of a man who long acted in the most conspicuous departments of American affairs. The veracity of an historian requires, that all those who have been distinguished, either by their abilities or their elevated rank, should be exhibited through every period of public life with impartiality and truth. But the heart of the annalist may sometimes be hurt by political deviations with the pen of the historian is obliged to record.
Mr. Adams was undoubtedly a statesman of penetration and ability; but his prejudices and his passions were sometimes too strong for his sagacity and judgment.
After Great Britain had acknowledged the independence of the dismembered colonies, Mr. Adams was sent to England, with a view of negotiating a treaty of commerce; but the government too sore from the loss of the colonies, and the nation too much soured by the breach, nothing was done. He, however, resided there four or five years; and unfortunately for himself and his country, he became so enamored with the British Constitution, and the government, manners, and laws of the nation, that a partiality for monarchy appeared, which was inconsistent with his former professions of republicanism. Time and circumstances often lead so imperfect a creature as man to view the same thing in a very different point of light.
After Mr. Adam's return from England, he was implicated by a large portion of his countrymen as having relinquished the republican system, and forgotten the principles of the American Revolution, which he had advocated for near twenty years.
The political errors of men of talents sometimes spring from their own passions; often from their prejudices, imbibed by local or incidental circumstances; and, not infrequently, from the versatile condition of man, which renders it difficult, at one period, to decide on the best system of civil government; or at another, on the most effectual means of promoting the general happiness of mankind. This may lead the candid mind to cast a veil over that ambiguity which confounds opinion, and that counteraction of former principles, which often sets a man in opposition to himself and prevents that uniformity of conduct which dignifies and that consistency which adorns the character.
Pride of talents and much ambition were undoubtedly combined in the character of the president who immediately succeeded General Washington, and the existing circumstance of his country, with his own capacity for business, gave him an opportunity for full gratification of the most prominent features of his character.
Endowed with a comprehensive genius, well acquainted with the history of men and of nations; and having long appeared to be actuated by the principles of integrity, by a zeal for the rights of men, and an honest indignation at the ideas of despotism, it was viewed as a kind of political phenomenon, when discovered that Mr. Adams's former opinions were beclouded by a partiality for monarchy. It may, however, be charitably presumed that by living long near the splendor of courts and courtiers, with other concurring circumstances, he might become so biased in his judgment as to think that a hereditary monarchy was the best government for his native country. [Circumstances may in some future day render it necessary to adopt this mode of government in the United States. Rome had not a master until the people had become prepared for the yoke of their dissensions and follies. These, more than the arm of Caesar, riveted their chains, and sunk them to a level with the most abject and servile nations.] From his knowledge of men, he was sensible it was easy to turn the tide of public opinion in favor of any system supported by plausible argumentation. Thus he drew a doleful picture of the confusion and dissolution of all republics, and presented it to the eyes of his countrymen, under the title of a "Defense of their constitutions." This had a powerful tendency to shake the republican system through the United States. Yet the predilection of Americans in general, in favor of a republican form of government was so strong, that few had the hardiness to counteract it, until several years after the United States had become an independent nation.
On Mr. Adams's return from England, he undoubtedly discovered a partiality in favor of monarchic government, and a few scrupled to asset for a time that he exerted his abilities to encourage the operation of those principles in America. But any further strictures are unnecessary in this place on the character of a gentleman whose official stations, abilities and services, amid the revolutionary conflict, may probably excite some future historian to investigate the causes of his lapse from former republican principles and to observe with due propriety on his administration and its consequences while president of the United States.
It is with more pleasure the writer records that notwithstanding any mistakes or changes in political opinion, or errors in public conduct, Mr. Adams, in private life, supported an unimpeachable character. His habits of morality, decency, and religion rendered him amiable in his family, and beloved by his neighbors. The opinions of a man of such sobriety of manners, political experience, and general knowledge of morals, law, and government will ever have a powerful effect on society, and must naturally influence the people, more especially the rising generation, the young men, who have not had the opportunity of acquainting themselves with the character, police, and jurisprudence of nations, or with the history of their own country, much less with the principles on which the American Revolution was grounded.
There is a propensity in mankind to enlist themselves under the authority of names and to adopt the opinions of men of celebrity, more from the fashion of the times than from the convictions of reason. Thus with the borrowed language of their chieftain, they impose upon themselves until they think his opinions are their own, and are often wrought up to such a fierce spirit of contention that they appear ready to defend them in all the cruel modes of the savage, who is seldom actuated by motives of candor and forgiveness of injuries.
Both history and experience have proved that when party feuds have thus divided a nation, urbanity and benevolence are laid aside; and, influenced by the most malignant and corrupt passions, they lose sight of the sacred obligations of virtue, until there appears little difference in the ferocious sprits of men in the most refined and civilized society or among the rude and barbarous hordes of the wilderness. Though some symptoms of the degradation of the human character have appeared in America, we hope the cloud is fast dissipating, and that no vicissitudes in human affairs, no intrigues of the interested, or any mistakes of upright men will ever damp the prospect of the establishment and continuance of a republican system, which appears to be best adapted to the genius of Americans. This form of government has the voice of the majority. The energies and sacrifices of the sons of Columbia have been exerted to leave a republican form, defined, modified, and digested as a model to promote the happiness of posterity.
Yet there is still a division of parties, and a variety of sentiment, relative to a subject that has heated the imaginations, and divided the opinions of mankind, from the rise of the Roman Republic to the destruction of her splendid Empire; and from that day to the present, when the division of the literati of every age have called the attention of genius and ability to speculate and to dissent in their ideas of the best modes and forms of government.
It may be a subject of wonder and inquiry, that though so many ages have elapsed and so great a part of the world been civilized and improved that he science of politics is still darkened by the variety of opinions that prevail among mankind. It may be beyond the reach of human genius to construct a fabric so free as to release from subordination, nor in the present condition of mankind ought it ever to be wished. Authority and obedience are necessary to preserve social order, and to continue the prosperity or even the existence of nations. But it may be observed that despotism is not always the certain consequence of monarchy, nor freedom the sure result of republican theories
It would be presumption in the writer to entangle herself on a subject of such magnitude and importance as to decide peremptorily whether aristocratic, monarchic, or democratic government is best adapted to the general happiness of the people. This shall be left to bolder pens. She will indulge little farther this aberration of hers, after the expression of her wishes that amid the heterogeneous opinions of a theoretic age, America may not trifle away her advantages by her own folly and levity, nor be robbed of any of the essential rights which have cost her so dear, by the intrigues or ambition of any class of men.
The speculative of every age have theorized on a system of perfect republicanism, but the experiment has much oftener failed in practice among all mankind, than been crowed with success. Those that have come nearest thereto, the free states of Greece, the Achaean League, the Amphyctions, and other confederacies fell under the power of Philip, Alexander, and their successors. The republic of Athens, the most conspicuous among the ancients, corrupted by riches and luxury, was wasted and lost by the intrigues of its own ambitious citizens.
The Roman commonwealth, the proud boast, the pattern, and exemplar of all republics, fell under the despotism of a long line of Caesars, generally the most debauched and brutal race of emperors that ever disgraced human nature. More modern experiments, Venice, and indeed all the Italian states who boasted their freedom, were subjected to the tyranny of an oligarchy or aristocracy, frequently more severe and cruel than that of monarchy. In England, the struggles of Hampden and his virtuous associates were lost, and the strong reasonings of the patriots of that day in favor of freedom were obliterated after the death of Charles, by the artful, the hypocritical, and the arbitrary Cromwell; and the most voluptuous of kings was restored and reseated on the throne of Britain.
Thus, from the first of the Stuarts to the last of the line of Brunswick who have yet reigned, their republican opinions and the freedom of the nation have been in the wane, and have finally sunk into an empty name under the tyranny of George III. Indeed, the most enlightened, rational, and independent characters in Great Britain continue still to defend the principles of liberty with their pens, while they have had reason to apprehend its total extinction through the realm.
Innumerable other instances might be adduced of the defeat of republicanism, in spite of the efforts of its most zealous friends. Yet this is no proof that this system of government may not be more productive of happiness to mankind than that of monarchy or aristocracy.
The United States of America have now a fair experiment of a republican system to make for themselves. they may perhaps be possessed of more materials that promise success than have ever fallen to the lot of any other nation. From the peculiar circumstances of the emigration of their ancestors, there is little reason to fear that a veil of darkness, tyranny, and barbarity will soon overspread the land to which they fled. These were a set of men very different in principles and manners from any that are to be found in the histories of colonization, where it may be observed the first planters have been generally either men of enterprise for the acquisition of riches or fame, or convicted villains transported from more civilized societies.
In the outset of the American Revolution, the arm of foreign power was opposed by a people uncontaminated by foreign luxury, the intricacies of foreign politics, or the theological jargon of metaphysical skeptics of foreign extract. Philosophy then conveyed honorable ideas of science, of religion, and morals. The character is since degraded by the unprincipled sarcasms of men of letters, who assume the dignity of philosophic thought. Instead of unfolding the sources of knowledge and inculcating truth, they often confound without convincing, and by their sophistical reasonings leave the superficial reader, their newly initiated disciple, on the comfortless shores of annihilation.
These observations are not confined to any particular nation or character. The historians of Britain and the philosophers and poets of France, Germany, and England are perhaps equally culpable; and it is to be regretted that America has not preserved a national character of her own, free from any symptoms of pernicious deviation from the purest principles on morals, religion, and civil liberty. She has been conducted through a revolution that will be ever memorable, both for its origin, its success, and the new prospects it has opened both at home and abroad. The consequences of this revolution have not been confined to one quarter of the globe, but the dissemination of more liberal principles in government, and more honorable opinions of the rights of man, and the melioration of his condition have been spread over a considerable part of the world.
But men prone to abuse of best advantages, lent by the beneficent hand of Providence, sometimes sport them away or confound causes with effects, which lead to the most erroneous conclusions. Thus it has been the recent fashion of courtiers and of a great part of the clergy, under monarchic governments, to impute the demoralization and skepticism that prevails to the spirit of free inquiry, as it regards the rights of civil society. This fashion has been adopted by all anti-republicans in America; but it may be asked whether the declamation and clamor against the dissemination of republican opinions on civil government, as originating the prevalence of atheistic folly is founded on the basis of truth?
Examine the history of the ancient republics of Greece and the splendid commonwealth of Rome. Was not the strictest regard paid to the worship of their gods and a sacred observance of their religious rites enjoined, until the Grecian republics were overthrown by ambitious individuals? It was then that skeptical disputes more generally employed the philosophers. In consequence of which, the rulers and the people sunk into an indifference to all religion. The rich city of Athens, particularly, was early corrupted by the influx of wealth, the influence of aristocratic nobles, and the annihilation of every principle connected with religion.
Survey the Roman commonwealth before its decline, when it was most worthy of the imitation of republicans. Was not a general regard paid to the worship of their deities among this celebrated people, and a superstitious attention observed relative to omens, prodigies, and judgments, as denounced and executed by their gods, until republicanism was extinguished, the commonwealth subverted, and the scepter of a single sovereign was stretched over that vast empire? It was then that Caligula set up his horse to be worshipped, as a burlesque on religion, and the sycophants of the court encouraged every caprice of their emperor. the people did not become so universally corrupt as to throw off all regard for religion, and all homage to the deities of their ancestors, until the libidinous conduct of their august sovereigns and the nobles of the court set the example.
Nor do we read in more sacred history, through all the story of the Israelites, that the fool ever said in his heart that there is no God, until under the dominion of kings.
It may be observed in the character of more modern republics that religion has been the grand palladium of their institutions. Through all the free states of Italy, democracy and religion have been considered in union. Some of them have indeed been darkened by superstition and bigotry, yet not equally hoodwinked under republican governments, as are the neighboring kingdoms of Spain and Portugal, subjected to monarchic despotism.
By no fair deduction can it be asserted that the skepticism an the late appearance of a total disregard to religious observances in France are in consequence of the democratic struggles of the nation. The dereliction of all religious principles among the literati of France, and the abominable opinions of some of their philosophers cannot be too much detested; but they have spring from various causes, remote from political freedom, and too complicated to trace their origin, in a page of cursory observations.
The French have long been a highly civilized, refined, luxurious nation, divided into two classes, the learned and the infidel, the ignorant and superstitious, both equally pursuing present pleasure, with little regard to moral principle, the laws of reason, of God, or of nature, any further than prompted by the gratifications of the moment. The first were patronized by the court; the rich and the noble had been generally infidel for more than a century before the revolution. The last were poor, depressed, and degraded by monarchic and prelatic power, until their indigence and misery produced universal murmur, and revolution burst on a nation, too ignorant to investigate the sources of their own wretchedness, and too volatile and impatient to wait the operation of measures adapted for relief by men of more information and ability than themselves.
Thus from the ignorance and imbecility of a people degraded by oppression, and long the dupes of priestly as well as monarchic tyranny, they naturally followed the lead of their superiors. These had long been the infidel disciples of Voltaire, D'Alembert, and Diderot. The atheistic opinions of these men and others of their character had been cherished only by courtiers and academicians, until near the middle of the 18th century, when their numerous adherents, who had concealed their pernicious opinions under the veil of modesty, threw off the mask, came out openly, an set religion at defiance. But the shackles of superstition were not yet broken, nor were any remarkable struggles made in favor of civil liberty, until the flame was caught by their officers and soldiers and resistance to tyranny taught them, while in union with the sober and pious Americans. They were animated by the principles of freedom while they lent their arm in aid of the energies of a people whose character had never been impeached as favorers of atheistic opinions, and who were only exerting their abilities, both in the cabinet and the field, in supporting the civil and social rights of men.
On the return of this veteran band of officers and soldiers to their own nation, they found as they had left, a voluptuous court, a licentious and extravagant nobility, a corrupted priesthood, and an ignorant multitude spread over the face of one of the finest countries on earth. Yet the murmurs against tyranny and oppression had become so general, that some ineffectual efforts for relief had been made without any digested system of means that might produce it. Previous to this period, some of their parliaments had discovered spirit and energy to resist the despotic mandates of the crown; but the arm of royalty was yet too potent to receive any check, while the whole nation was held in bondage by the strong hand of their grand monarch.
These combined circumstances brought forward an assembly of notables, and a national convention, neither of which were capable of quieting the universal discontent and disaffection to royalty that prevailed. Hence the destruction of the Bastille; the imprisonment and decapitation of their king and queen; the extermination of their nobility and clergy; the assassination of many of their first literary characters; and the indiscriminate murder of ladies of the first fame and virtue, and women of little consideration; of characters of the highest celebrity, of nobles, magistrates, and men without name or distinction.
These sudden eruptions of the passions of the multitude spread, like the lava of a volcano, throughout all France, nor could men of correct judgment, who aimed only at the reform of abuses, and a renovation in all the departments, check the fury of the torrent. This confusion and terror within, and an army without, sent on by the combined despots of Europe, with the professed design of subjecting the nation and re-establishing the monarch of France, gave an opportunity to ambitious, unprincipled, corrupt, and ignorant men to come forward, under pretense of supporting the rights and liberties of mankind, without any views but those of disorder and disorganization. Thus, in the midst of tumult and confusion, was indulged every vicious propensity, peculation, revenge, and all the black passions of the soul. The guillotine was glutted with the blood of innocent victims, while the rapidity of execution and their jealousy of each other involved the most guilty and cut down many of the blackest miscreants, as well as the most virtuous characters in the nation.
But from the rise and progress of this period of horror, this outrage of humanity, it is evident that it originated more from former monarchic and priestly oppression than from the operation of infidel opinions, united with republican efforts. In consequence of this state of things, though there were very many characters of the best intentions, principles, and abilities, animated and active for the promotion of civil liberty in France, they had to regret with all the humane, benevolent, and pious, that while engaged to eradicate the superstitions of their country and the arbitrary strides of their civil rulers, law was annihilated and even the government of Heaven renounced.. Thus, all religious opinions were set afloat, the passions let loose, and all distinctions leveled. Decency, humanity, and everything else respected in civil society disappeared, until the outrages of cruelty and licentiousness resembled the regions of pandemonium. Thus was republicanism disgraced by the demoralization of the people, and a cloud of infidelity darkened the hemisphere of France; but there is nothing to countenance the opinion that skepticism was the origin or the result of the struggles of the Gallican nation in favor of civil liberty. [The above summary of the French Revolution was written several years before monarchy was re-established in France.]
This people may have had their day of licentious enjoyment, of literary fame, of taste, elegance, and splendor. They have abused His gifts and denied the God of nature, who, according to the usual course of His government among men, may devote them to that ruin which is the natural consequence of luxury and impiety. Yet, the God of Providence, when national punishment has been sufficiently inflicted, may bring them back again to a due sense of religion and order; while the seeds of liberty, which they have disseminated far and wide, may ripen in every soil, and in full maturity extend the branches of general freedom through Europe, and perhaps throughout the world. After all, we are inadequate to any calculation on future events. The ways of Heaven are hidden in the depths of time, and a small circumstance frequently gives a new turn to the most probable contingencies that seem to measure the fate of men of empires. [The Duke D'Alencourt, who visited the family of the author, in his exile under the tyranny of Robespierre, observed justly that "the sources of disorder in France were so innumerable that it was impossible to conjecture when tranquility would be again restored or what maters or what government the nation would sit down under, after their violent convulsions subsided." Through a very interesting conversation relative to the causes and consequences of the revolution, the deepest marks of grief and sensibility sat on the countenance of the noble sufferer, expressive of the pain he felt for the miseries of his country, and the misfortunes of his family.]
We will now leave this extraordinary nation, which has furnished materials for history of the most interesting nature, as it regards the character of man; their civil, political, and religious institutions, and the moral and social ties that connect society. From them we will look over to the island of Britain, and survey the gradations of principles, manners, and science, there. We shall find that Lord Herbert, one of the first and most notorious infidels in England, sprung up under kingly government; and none will deny that skepticism has prevailed, and has been gathering strength both in France and England, under monarchy, even before the correspondences of British infidels with St. Evremond, and other skeptical Frenchmen. Hobbes, Hume, and Bolingbroke were subjects of a king of England; and while their disciples have been increasing, and their deistic opinions have poisoned the minds of youth of genius and shaken the faith of some even in clerical professions, yet no democratic opinions have been generally spread over the nation.
In the zenith of British monarchy, and the golden age of nobility, while republicanism has been quite out of fashion, has not the cause of Christianity suffered by the fascinating pen of a Gibbon, whose epithets charm while they shock, and whose learned eloquence leads the believer to pause and tremble for the multitudes that may be allured by the sophistry of his arguments, his satirical wit, the elegance of his diction, and the beautiful antithesis of many of his periods.
The elegance of his style confers an "alarming popularity on the licentiousness of his opinions." The rise and fall of the Roman republic will probably be read by many who have not the inclination or the opportunity to study the writings of Locke, Boyle, Butler, Newton, Clarke, and many others, who have by their example and by the pen supported and defended the Christian system on principles of reason and argument, that will forever adorn the character of Englishmen. A writer of ingenuity has observed that "there are probably more skeptics in England than in any other country." [Dr. F.A. Wenderburne. He gives his reason for his assertion, page 475 of his view of England at the close of the 18th century.] Yet, we do not infer that the examples of infidelity that disgrace the world, by blasting the principles of truth, though nurtured under princely patronage, are in consequence of the cherishing influence of monarchy. Nor is it more just to suppose that the writings of French philosophists or the jejune trumpery that has for years exuded from the brain of other theorists of that nation is the result of speculative opinions with regard to civil liberty.
It is neither a preference to republican systems, nor an attachment to monarchic or aristocratic forms of government that disseminates the wild opinions of infidelity. It is the licentious manners of courts of every description, the unbridled luxury of wealth, and the worst passions of men let loose on the multitude by the example of their superiors. Bent on gratification, at the expense of every moral tie, they have broken down the barriers of religions, and the spirit of infidelity is nourished at the fount; thence the poisonous streams run through every grade that constitutes the mass of nations.
It may be further observed that there is a variety of additional causes which have led to a disposition among some part of mankind to reject the obligations of religion and even to deny their God. This propensity in some may easily be elucidated without casting any part of the odium on the spirit of free inquiry relative to civil and political liberty, which had been widely disseminated an had produced two such remarkable revolutions as those of America and France. It may be imputed to the love of novelty, the pride of opinion, and an extravagant propensity to speculate and theorize on subjects beyond the comprehension of mortals, untied with a desire of being released from the restraints on their appetites and passions; restraints dictated both by reason and revelation; and which, under the influence of sober reflection, forbid the indulgence of all gratifications that are injurious to man. Further elucidations, or more abstruse causes, which contribute to lead the vain inquirer, who steps over the line prescribed by the Author of nature, to deviations form, and forgetfulness of its Creator, and to involve him a labyrinth of darkness, from which his weak reasonings can never disentangle him, may be left to those who delight in metaphysical disquisitions.
The world might reasonably have expected from the circumstances connected with the first settlement of the American colonies, which was in consequence of their attachment to the religion of their fathers, united with a spirit of independence relative to civil government, that there would have been no observable dereliction of those honorable principles for many ages to come. From the sobriety of their manners, their simple habits, their attention to the education and moral conduct of their children, they had the highest reason to hope that it might have been long, very long before the faith of their religion was shaken or their principles corrupted either by the manners, opinions, or habits of foreigners, bred in the courts of despotism or the schools of licentiousness.
This hope shall not yet be relinquished. There has indeed been some relaxation of manners, and the appearance of a change in public opinion not contemplated when revolutionary scenes first shook the western world. But it must be acknowledge that the religious and moral character of Americans yet stands on a higher grade of excellence and purity than that of most other nations It has been observed that "a violation of manners has destroyed more states than the infraction of laws." [Montesquieu.] It is necessary for every American with becoming energy to endeavor to stop the dissemination of principles evidently destructive of the cause for which they have bled. It must be the combined virtue of the rulers and of the people to do this and to rescue and save their civil and religious rights from the out-stretched arm of tyranny, which may appear under any mode or form of government.
Let not the frivolity of the domestic taste of the children of Columbia, nor the examples of strangers of high or low degree, that may intermix with them, or the imposing attitude of distant nations, or the machinations of the bloody tyrants of Europe, who have united themselves and to the utmost are exerting their strength to extirpate the very name of republicanism, rob them of their character, their morals, their religion, or their liberty.
It is true the revolution in France had not ultimately tended to strengthen the principles of republicanism in America. The confusions introduced into that unhappy nation by their resistance to despotism and the consequent horrors that spread dismay over every portion of their territory have startled some in the United States, who do not distinguish between principles and events, and shaken the firmness of others, who have fallen off from their primary object and by degrees returned back to their former adherence to monarchy. Thus, through real or pretended fears of similar results, from the freedom of opinion disseminated through the United States, dissensions have originated relative to subjects not know in the Constitution of the American republic. This admits no titles of honor or nobility, those powerful spring of human action; and from the rage of acquisition which has spread far and wide, it may be apprehended that the possession of wealth will in a short time be the only distinction in this young country. By this it may be feared that the spirit of avarice will be rendered justifiable in the opinion of some, as the single road to superiority.
The desire of distinction is inherent in the bosom of man, notwithstanding the equality of nature in which he was created. Few are the number of elevated souls, stimulated to act on the single motive of disinterested virtue; and among the less powerful incentives to great and noble actions, the pursuit of honor, rank, and titles is undeniably as laudable as that of riches. The last, too, generally narrows the mind, debased it by meanness, and renders it disgracefully selfish, both in the manner of hoarding and squandering superfluous wealth; but the ambitious, stimulated by a thirst for rank, consider the want to generosity a stain on the dignity of high station.
It may be asked, are not those states the most likely to produce the greatest number of wise and heroic spirits, where some mark of elevation, instead of pecuniary compensation, is affixed to the name and character of such as have outstripped their contemporaries in the field of glory or integrity? A Roman knight ennobled for his patriotism or his valor, though his patrimonial inheritance was insufficient for a modern flower garden, was beheld with more veneration than the most wealthy and voluptuous citizen. But we shall not here decide how far honorary rewards are consistent with the principles of republicanism. Indeed, some have asserted that "nobility is the Corinthian capital of polished states;" but an ingenious writer has observed that "a titled nobility is the most undisputed progeny of feudal barbarism; that the august fabric of society is deformed and encumbered by such Gothic ornaments. The massy Doric that sustains it is labor, and the splendid variety of arts and talents that solace and embellish life from the decorations of its Corinthian and Ionic capitals." [Mackintosh's Vindiciae Galliciae, p. 77, 79.]
It is to be regretted that Americans are so much divided on this point as well as on many other questions. We hope the spirit of division will never be wrought up to such a height as to terminate in a disseveration of the states, or any internal hostilities. Any civil convulsions would shake the fabric of government, and perhaps entirely subvert the present excellent Constitution; a strict adherence to which, it may be affirmed, is the best security of the rights and liberties of a country that has bled at every vein to purchase and transmit them to posterity. The sword now resheathed, the army dismissed, a wise, energetic government established and organized, it is to be hoped many generations will pass away in the lapse of time before America again becomes a theater of war.
Indeed, the United States of America embrace too large a portion of the globe to expect their isolated situation will forever secure them from the encroachments of foreign nations and the attempt of potent Europeans to interrupt their peace. But if the education of youth, both public and private, is attended to, their industrious and economical habits maintained, their moral character and the assemblage of virtues supported, which is necessary for the happiness of individuals and of nations, there is not much danger that they will for a long time be subjugated by the arms of foreigners, or that their republican system will be subverted by the arts of domestic enemies. Yet, probably some distant day will exhibit the extensive continent of America, a portrait analogous to the other quarters of the globe, which have been laid waste by ambition, until misery has spread her sable veil over the inhabitants. But this will not be done until ignorance, servility, and vice have led them to renounce their ideas of freedom and reduced them to that grade of baseness which renders them unfit for the enjoyment of that rational liberty which is the natural inheritance of man. The expense of blood and treasure, lavished for the purchase of freedom, should teach Americans to estimate its real worth, nor ever suffer it to be depreciated by the vices of the human mind, which are seldom single. The sons of America ought ever to bear in grateful remembrance the worthy and of patriots who first supported an opposition to the tyrannical measures of Great Britain. Though some of them have long since been consigned to the tomb, a tribute of gratitude is ever due to their memory, while the advantage of freedom and independence are felt by their latest posterity.
The military character of the country has rung with deserved applause. Many of the heroes who have been sacrificed in the field are justly recollected with a sigh; but the laborious statesmen who with ability and precision defined the rights of men, and supported the freedom of their country; without whose efforts America never would have had an army, are, many of them, neglected or forgotten. Private virtue may be neglected; public benefits disregarded as they affect the individual, while at the same time society feels their cherishing beams, which like the silent rills that water the great garden of nature, pour forth their bounties, unasked, on the whole family of ungrateful man.
It has been justly said that "there is seldom any medium between gratitude for benefits and hatred to the authors of them. A little mind is hurt by the remembrance of obligations, begins by forgetting, and not uncommonly ends by persecution." And, "that that circle of being which dependence gathers around us is almost ever unfriendly. They secretly wish the terms of this connection or equal. Increasing the obligations which are laid on such minds only increases their burden. They feel themselves unable to defray the immensity of their debt." Thus the names of many of the men who laid the foundations of American independence and defended the principles of the Revolution, are by the efforts of the artful, depreciated, if not vilified. The ancient Persians considered ingratitude as the source of all enmities among men. They considered it "an indication of the vilest spirit, nor believed it possible for an ungrateful man to love the gods or even his parents, friends, or country."
The partiality to military honor has a tendency to nourish a disposition for arbitrary power; and wherever there is a tyrannical disposition, servility is its concomitant; hence, pride of title and distinction, and an avarice for wealth to support it. Where these passions predominate, ingratitude is usually added. This makes a tripodium to lift the ambitious to the summit of their nefarious designs. Under an established despotism, mankind are generally more prone to bend than to resist; losing their ideas of the value of independence, the timid, the doubtful, and the indiscreet, for the most part, determine in favor of whatever wars the appearance of established authority. This should be a lasting admonition which should forever prevent the vesting any individual or body of men with too much power.
The people of the United States are bound together in sacred compact and a union of interests which ought never to be separated. But the Confederation is recent, and their experience immatured. They are, however, generally sensible that from the dictatorship of Sulla to the overthrow of Caesar, and from the ruin of the Roman tyrant to the death of the artful Cromwell, deception as well as violence have operated to the subversions of the freedom of the people. They are sensible that by a little well-concerted intrigue, an artificial consideration may be obtained, far exceeding the degree of real merit on which it is founded. They are sensible that it is not difficult for men of moderate abilities and a little personal address to retain their popularity to the end of their lives, without any distinguished traits of genius, wisdom, or virtue. They are sensible that the characters of nations have been disgraced by their weak partialities, until their freedom has been irretrievably lost in that vortex of folly which throws a lethargy over the mind, until awakened by the fatal consequences which result from arbitrary power, disguised by specious pretexts, amid a general relaxation of mankind.
An ingenious writer has observed that "the juvenile vigor of reason and freedom in the New World, where the human mind was unencumbered with that vast mass of usage and prejudice, which so many ages of ignorance had accumulated to load and deform society in Europe," brought forward those declarations of the rights of men, which hastened the emancipation of their own country and diffused light to others.
It is equally just to observe that in the 18th century, the enlightened writers of Europe had so clearly delineated the natural rights of men, that the equal freedom of the human race, before they by compact had yielded a part for the preservation and safety of the whole, as to have a powerful effect on public opinion. This had manifestly, in some degree, broken the fetters that had long enthralled and dissipated the darkness that shrouded the mind under the influence of superstitious bigotry, and their ideas of the divine right of kings. The Colossus of tyranny was shaken, and the social order meliorated by learned sages, who evinced that government, as elegantly expressed by one [Mackintosh.], is not "a scientific subtlety, but a practical expedient for general good; all recourse to elaborate abstractions is frivolous and futile, and the grand question in government is not its source, but its tendency; not a question of right, but a consideration of expediency.
"All the governments in the world," the same writer adds, "have been fortuitously formed. They are the produce of chance, not the work of art. They have been altered, impaired, improved, and destroyed by accidental circumstances, beyond the foresight or control of wisdom. Their parts thrown up against present emergencies, formed no systematic whole It was certainly not to have been presumed that these fortuitous governments should have surpassed the works of intellect and precluded all nearer approaches to perfection."
Perfection in government is not to be expected from so imperfect a creature as man. Experience ha taught that he falls infinitely short of this point; that however industrious in pursuit of improvements in human wisdom, or however bold the inquiry that employs the human intellect, either on government, ethics, or any other science, man yet discovers a deficiency of capacity to satisfy his researches or to announce that he has already found an unerring standard on which he may rest.
Perhaps genius has never devised a system more congenial to their wishes or better adapted to the condition of man than the American Constitution. At the same time, it is left open to amendments whenever its imperfections are discovered by the wisdom of future generations, or when new contingencies may arise either at home or abroad to make alterations necessary. On the principles of republicanism was this Constitution founded; on these it must stand. Many corrections and amendments have already taken place, and it is at the present period [The beginning of the 19th century, which circumscribes the limits of the supplementary observations subjoined to the History of the Revolution.] as wise, as efficient, as respectable, as free, and we hope as permanent, as any constitution existing on earth. It is a system admired by statesmen abroad, envied by distant nations, and revered by Americans. They pride themselves on this palladium of safety, fabricated at a dangerous crisis, and established on the broad basis of the elective voice of the people. It now depends on their own virtue to continue the United States of America an example of the respectability and dignity of this mode of government.
Notwithstanding the advantage that may be derived and the safety that may be felt under so happy a constitution, yet it is necessary to guard at every point against the intrigues of artful or ambitious men who may subvert the system which the inhabitants of the United States judged to be most conducive to the general happiness of society.
It is now indeed at the option of the sons of America to delegate such men for the administration of government as will consider the designation of this trust as a sacred deposit, which binds them to the indispensable duty of aiming solely at the promotion of the civil, the economic, the religious, and political welfare of the whole community. They, therefore, cannot be too scrutinous on the character of their executive officers. No man should be lifted by the voice of his country to presidential rank who may probably forget the republican designation, and sigh to wield a scepter, instead of guarding sacredly the charter from the people. It is to be hoped that no American citizen will hereafter pant of nobility. The senators of the United States should be wise, her representatives uncorrupted, the judiciary firm, equitable, and humane, and the bench of justice ever adorned by men uninfluenced by little passions, and adhering only to the principles of law and equity! The people should be economical and sober; and the clergy should keep within their own line, which directs them to enforce the moral obligations of society and to inculcate the doctrines of peace, brotherly kindness, and the forgiveness of injuries, taught by the example of their Divine Master, nor should they leave the appropriate duties of their profession, to descant on political principles or characters! [It is true that this respectable order of men interested themselves on the great subject of opposition to the aggressions of the British Parliament. This was sometimes done at the request of legislators, who thought every aid necessary to awaken the people to a sense of their rights. But the ground on which the clergy came forward on political subjects was then very different from the present party disputes. There was then, (with few exceptions) a united opposition of the whole collective body of the people against a foreign power aiming to deprive them of their civil and religious privileges and to load them with taxes, impositions and innovations, novel and grievous. The dissensions are now wholly internal, which render the influence of every pious clergyman necessary to soothe the passions and heal the animosities enkindled among the people of his own particular charge.] Such a happy combination of propriety and dignity in each department might prevent all apprehensions of danger to religion from the skeptical absurdities of unprincipled men. Neither the foolish, the learned, or licentious would be able to sap the foundations of the Kingdom of Christ. In the present state of society and general information, there is no reason to fear the overthrow of a system, by the efforts of modern infidels, which could not be shaken by the learned unbelievers of Greece, the persecutions of the Caesars, nor the power of the Roman Empire.
All who have just ideas of the equal claims of mankind to share the benefits of a free and benign government, and virtue sufficient to aid its promotion, will fervently pray that the narrow passions of the selfish or the ambitious views of more elevated minds may never render fruitless the labors of the wise and vigilant patriot, who sacrificed much to this noble purpose, nor defeat the severe efforts of the soldier, who fell in the field, or stain the laurels of such as have survived the conflict.
However literature has been improved and knowledge diffused by the pen of genius and the industry of liberal-minded and erudite instructions, there has been a conspiracy formed against the dissemination of republican opinions by interested and aspiring characters, eager for the establishment of hereditary distinctions and noble orders. This is a conspiracy formidable for the wealth and talents of its supporters in Europe, and not less so from the same description of men in America. This should stand as a beacon before the eyes of an infant republic, recently established by the suffrages of the inhabitants of the United States, who already have had to fear the progress of opinion, which produced the American Revolution, might change its complexion, and there might yet be a tyranny to depose, more formidable than kinds.
Public opinion, when grounded on false principles and dictated by the breath of ambitious individuals, sometimes creates a tyranny, felt by the minority more severely than that usually inflicted by the hand of the sceptered monarch. From this tyranny of opinion often starts a political enthusiasm which is expressed by the Cardinal de Retz, "would at one period exalt to a throne, and at another conduct the enthusiast to a gallows." This tyranny of opinion is spread or extinguished by factitious circumstances, sometimes combining to exalt the mind to the most sublime ideas of human freedom; at others, beclouding it with prejudices which sink it into habitual servility, when reason languishes until overwhelmed by a torpor become too general to awaken, without producing convulsion more to be dreaded than submission, and too painful for the contemplation of benevolent minds.
Great revolutions ever produce excesses and miseries at which humanity revolts. In America, indeed, it must be acknowledged that when the late convulsions are viewed with a retrospective eye, the scenes of barbarity were not so universal as have been usual in other countries that have been at once shaken by foreign and domestic war. Few histories have recorded examples of equal moderation and less violation of the feelings of humanity, where general revolt and revolution had pervaded such an extensive territory. The enthusiasm of opinion previous to the year 1775 bore down opposition like a torrent, and enkindled the flame which emancipated the United States. Yet, it was not stimulated by a fierce spirit of revenge, which, in similar circumstances, too frequently urges to cruelties which can never be licensed by the principles of justice or freedom, and must ever be abhorrent to humanity and benevolence.
The United States may congratulate themselves on the success of a revolution which has done honor to the human character by exhibiting a mildness of spirit amid the ferocity of war, that prevented the shocking scenes of cruelty, butchery, and slaughter, which have too often stained the actions of men, when their original intentions were the result of pure motives and justifiable resistance. They have been hailed by distant nations in terms of respect and applause for the glorious an successful stand made by them in favor of the liberties of mankind. They have now to maintain their well-earned fame by a strict adherence to the principles of the Revolution and the practice of every public, social, and domestic virtue.
The enthusiastic zeal for freedom which had generally animated all classes throughout the United States was retained, with few exceptions, to the conclusion of the war, without any considerable appearance of relaxation in any part of the union, until the sword was resheathed and the conflict terminated by a general peace. After this, indeed, though the spirit for freedom was not worn down, a party arose actuated by different principles. New designs were discovered, which spread suspicions among the people that the object of their exertions as endangered from circumstances they had never calculated as probable to take place in their country, until some ages had elapsed. But notwithstanding the variety of exigencies and the new opportunities which offered to interested individuals for the aggrandizement of family and the accumulation of wealth, no visible dereliction appeared, nor any diminution of that general partiality in favor of republicanism which had taken deep root in the minds of the inhabitants of the United States. These principles did not apparently languish until some time after the adoption of the new Constitution. Exertions were then made to damp their ardor by holding up systems of government asserted by some to be better adapted to their happiness and absolutely necessary for the strength and glory of the American states. The illusion was, however, discovered, and a constitutional ardency for the general freedom revived among the people. The feelings of native freedom among the sons of America, and their own good sense taught them that they did not need the appendages of royalty and the baneful curse of a standing army to support it. They were convinced that rational liberty might be maintained, their favorite system of republicanism might be revived, established, and supported, and the prosperity of their country heightened, at a less gorgeous expense than a resort to the usages of monarchic states, and the introduction of hereditary crowns and the proud claims of noble ancestry, which usually involve the mass of the people in poverty, corruption, degradation, and servility.
Under the benediction of Divine Providence, American may yet long be protected from sanguine projects and indigested measures that have produced the evils felt or depictured among less fortunate nations, who have not laid the foundations of their governments on the firm basis of public virtue, of general freedom, and that degree of liberty most productive of the happiness of mankind in his social state. But from the accumulated blessings which are showered down on the United States, there is reason to indulge a benign hope that America may long stand a favored nation and be preserved from the horrors of war, instigated either by foreign combinations or domestic intrigue, which are equally to be deprecated.
Any attempt, either by secret fraud, or open violence, to shake the union, to subvert the Constitution, or undermine the just principles which wrought out the American Revolution, cannot be too severely censured. It is true, there has been some agitation of spirits between existing parties; but, doubtless, the prudence of the inhabitants of the United States will suffer this to evaporate, as the cloud of the morning, and will guard against every point that might have the smallest tendency to break the union. If peace and unanimity are cherished, and the equalization of liberty, and the equity and energy of law maintain by harmony and justice, the present representative government may stand for ages, a luminous monument of republican wisdom, virtue, and integrity. The principles of the Revolution ought ever to be the polestar of the statesman, respected by the rising generation; and the advantages bestowed by Providence should never be lost by negligence, indiscretion, of guilt.
The people may again be reminded that the elective franchise is in their own hands; that it ought not to be abused, either for personal gratifications, or the indulgence of partisan acrimony. This advantage should be improved, not only for the benefit of existing society, but with an eye to that fidelity which is due to posterity. This can only be done by electing such men to guide the national counsels, whose conscious probity enables them to stand like a Colossus, on the broad basis of independence, and by correct and equitable arrangement, endeavor to lighten the burdens of the people, strengthen their unanimity at home, command justice abroad, and cultivate peace with all nations, until an example may be left on record of the practicability of meliorating the condition of mankind.
The internal strength of America is respectable, and her borders are fenced by the barriers of nature. May the wisdom, vigor, and ability of her native sons, teach her to surmount every difficulty that may arise at home or abroad, without ever calling in the aid of foreign relations! She wants not the interference of any other nation to give a model to her government, or secretly influence the administration by bribes, flatteries, or threats. The enterprising spirit of the people seems adapted to improve their advantages, and to rival in grandeur and fame those parts of creation which for ages have been meliorating and refining, until the period of decay seems to have arrived, that threatens the fall of some of the proudest nations. Humanity recoils at a view of the wretched state of vassalage in which a great part of mankind are involved. Yet, American may sit tranquil, and only extend her compassion to the European world, which exhibits the shambles of despotism, where the purple of kings is stained by the blood of their subjects, butchered by thousands to glut the ambition of a weak individual, who frequently expires himself before the cup of his intoxication is full. The vesture of royalty is, however, still displayed, and the weapons of war spread death over three fourths of the globe, without satiating the thirst that drinks up rivers of human gore, when the proud victor wipes the stained lip and covers the guilty visage with a smile at the incalculable carnage of his own species, by his mandates an myrmidons.
It will be the wisdom and probably the future effort of the American government, forever to maintain with unshaken magnanimity the present neutral position of the United States. [The limits of the present work preclude any historical record subsequent to the year 1801.] The hand of nature has displayed its magnificence in this quarter of the globe in the astonishing rivers, lakes, and mountains, replete with the riches minerals and the most useful materials for manufactures. At the same time, the indigenous produce of its fertile lands yields medicine, food, and clothing, and everything needful for man in his present condition. America may, with propriety, be styled a land of promise; a happy climate, though remarkably variegated; fruitful and populous, independent and free. Both necessity and pleasure invite the hand of the industrious to cherish and cultivate the prolific soil, which is ready to yield all that nature requires to satisfy the reasonable wishes of man, as well as to contribute to the wealth, pleasure, and luxury of the inhabitants. It is a portion of the globe that appears as a fair and fertile vineyard, which requires only the industrious care of the laborers to render it for a long time productive of the finest clusters in the full harvest of prosperity and freedom, instead of yielding thorns, thistles, and sour rapes, which must be the certain fruits of animosity, disunion, venality, or vice.
Though in her infantile state, the young republic of America exhibits the happiest prospects. Her extensive population, commerce, and wealth, the progress of agriculture, arts, sciences, and manufactures have increased with a rapidity beyond example. Colleges and academies have been reared, multiplied, and endowed with the best advantage for public instruction on the broad scale of liberality and truth. The effects of industry and enterprise appear in the numerous canals, turnpikes, elegant buildings, and well-constructed bridges over lengths and depths of water that open and render the communication easy and agreeable, throughout a country almost without bounds. In short, arts and agriculture are pursued with avidity, civilization spreads, and science, in full research, is investigating all the sources of human knowledge.
Indeed the whole country wears a face of improvement, from the extreme point of the northern and western wood, through all the southern states, and to the vast Atlantic Ocean, the eastern boundary of the United States. The wisdom and justice of the American governments, and the virtue of the inhabitants, may, if they are not deficient in the improvement of their own advantages, render the United States of America an enviable example to all the world of peace, liberty, righteousness, and truth. The western wilds, which for ages have been little known may arrive to that stage of improvement and perfection beyond which the limits of human genius cannot reach, and the last civilized quarter of the globe may exhibit those striking traits of grandeur and magnificence which the Divine Economist may have reserved to crown the closing scene, when the angel of His Presence will stand on the sea and on the earth, lift up his hand to heaven and swear by Him that liveth forever and ever, that there shall be time no longer.