History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson/Second/I:15
Chapter 15: Session of 1806-1807Edit
Jefferson's effort to suppress the scandal of Burr's disunion scheme had its source in motives both pure and generous. Distressed by the factiousness of the last session, he could feel no wish more ardent than to restore harmony to his party: The struggle for the succession threatened to tear from his brows the hard-won laurels which were his only pleasure, and the reward for infinite labors and mortifications. So far as he could, he stifled discussion in regard to the coming change.
- "The question," he wrote to Leiper of Pennsylvania, "cannot be touched without endangering the harmony of the present session of Congress, and disturbing the tranquillity of the nation itself prematurely and injuriously. . . . The present session is important as having new and great questions to decide, in the decision of which no schismatic views should take any part."
In this spirit the President shaped his acts. Reunion in a common policy, a controlling impulse, was the motive of his gentleness toward Randolph and the Virginia schismatics, as it was that of his blindnessto the doings of Burr.
The Annual Message of December, 1806, was intended to unite the party on a new plane of action, and to prepare the way for Madison's gentle rule. Foreign affairs were to be allowed to drop from sight; France, England, and Spain were to be forgotten; Florida was to be ignored; political energy was to be concentrated upon the harvesting of fruits already ripe. For six years, carrying out the policy of discharging public debt, Gallatin had pursued his economies, in the opinion of many good men pressing them so far as to paralyze Government. The time had come when he could do no more. Twenty-four millions of debt had been paid. Of the remainder about ten millions only could be dealt with; and arrangements were made for discharging these ten millions before Jefferson's term should end. Meanwhile the revenue was growing; the surplus must be disposed of, and the period of pinching economies might cease. Henceforward Republicans, Democrats, and Federalists might agree on some common system of expenditure.
- "The question now comes forward," said the Annual Message, "to what other objects shall these surpluses be appropriated, and the whole surplus of impost, after the entire discharge of the public debt, and during those intervals when the purposes of war shall not call for them? Shall we suppress the impost, and give that advantage to foreign over domestic manufactures? On a few articles of more general and necessary use the suppression in due season will doubtless be right; but the great mass of the articles on which impost is paid are foreign luxuries, purchased by those only who are rich enough to afford themselves the use of them. Their patriotism would certainly prefer its continuance and application to the great purposes of the public education, roads, rivers, canals, and such other objects of public improvement as it may be thought proper to add to the constitutional enumeration of federal powers. By these operations new channels of communication will be opened between the States, the lines of separation will disappear, their interests will be identified, and their union cemented by new and indissoluble ties. Education is here placed among the articles of public care, not that it would be proposed to take its ordinary branches out of the hands of private enterprise, which manages so much better all the concerns to which it is equal; but a public institution can alone supply those sciences which, though rarely called for, are yet necessary to complete the circle, all the parts of which contribute to the improvement of the country, and some of them to its preservation."
With an air of apology, as though his old opinions were no longer of practical interest, the President added that an amendment to the Constitution would be necessary in order to bring these new functions within the enumerated objects of government; but to such an amendment he saw no objection, nor did he apprehend difficulty in obtaining it. A broad system of internal improvements; a national university; "a steady, perhaps a quickened, pace in preparations for the defence of our seaport towns and waters; an early settlement of the most exposed and vulnerable parts of our country; a militia so organized that its effective portions can be called to any point in the Union, or volunteers instead of them, to serve a sufficient time,"—these were the objects to which Congress should devote its energies, in order that when the two remaining years of Jefferson's power should come to an end, the fabric of Republican government might be complete.
That Federalist and Democrat could join in accepting such a scheme of action, and could lay aside forever their old, unprofitable disputes, seemed no wild dream. The hope was strengthened by a paragraph of the Message which held out the prospect of removing another serious barrier to perfect harmony:—
- "I congratulate you, fellow-citizens, on the approach of the period at which you may interpose your authority constitutionally to withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights which have been so long continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa, and which the morality, the reputation, and the best interests of our country have long been eager to proscribe."
Almost ignoring foreign politics, Jefferson recommended Congress to abolish the slave-trade, begin a system of national roads and canals, found a national university, fortify the coasts, and organize the national militia; and had Congress been able or willing to follow promptly his advice, many difficulties would have been overcome before the year 1810 which seemed even twenty years later to bar the path of national progress. Congress, indeed, never succeeded in rising to the level of Jefferson's hopes and wishes; it realized but a small part of the plan which he traced, and what it did was done with little system. The slowness with which political movement lagged behind industrial and social progress could be measured by the fate of President Jefferson's scheme of 1806 for crowning the fabric of Republican government. Not by means of the government, or by virtue of wisdom in the persons trusted with the government, were Jefferson's objects destined at last to be partially attained.
Notwithstanding the favor shown to internal improvements, John Randolph exulted in the President's Message, which he regarded as expressing his own views. He scoffed at the Smiths, Crowninshields, and other orators who in the last session had talked loudly of war.
- "The Message," he wrote to Nicholson, "was, as you supposed, wormwood to certain gentry. They made wry faces, but in fear of the rod and in hopes of sugar-plums swallowed it with less apparent repugnance than I had predicted."
General Smith and the politicians who wanted armaments were annoyed.
- "We have established theories," wrote Smith, "that would stare down any possible measures of offence or defence. Should a man take a patriotic stand against those destructive and seductive fine-spun follies, he will be written down very soon. Look at the last Message! It is such that the President cannot recommend (although he now sees the necessity) any augmentation of the army. Nay I, even I, did not dare to bring forward the measure until I had first obtained his approbation. Never was there a time when Executive influence so completely governed the nation!"
No man of ordinary sense could fail to feel some shame at the recollection of what had taken place in regard to Florida, or to wish that it might be forgotten; and the friends of Madison had every reason for ignoring it and for welcoming Randolph's followers back into the party, if they would consent to come. The session took character from this spirit of reconciliation. The first Bill adopted by Congress suspended, at the President's judgment, the operation of the Non-importation Act passed in April; and Randolph did not fail to suggest that his sarcasms against those who had urged this law were justified by its instant suspension. The next important measure, brought forward under the President's patronage, was the abolition of the duty on salt; and Randolph reminded the House that this relief from taxation followed close upon his own strenuous efforts of the year before. Throughout the session Randolph took the tone of a dictator; and on most questions a majority of the House tried only to vie with him in the race for popularity. Old subjects of dispute were laid aside; the Yazoo claims were forgotten. In regard to the army and navy, Randolph was allowed to have his way; in the case of Bollman and Swartwout, he stopped the attempt to suspend the writ of habeas corpus; in sympathy with his opinions the House cut down appropriations, refused to fortify New York, declined to increase the army, and reverted to the first principles of the Republican party. The session of 1806-1807 was a perpetual effort to win back the confidence and support of Virginia for Madison, and leave no excuse for defection to Monroe.
General Smith thought Executive influence more powerful than ever, but the President seemed to influence only by disguising his weakness. Little or no attention was paid to his wishes. He would gladly have built ships of the line, he would willingly have fortified New York, he would have liked two more regiments to garrison the military posts; but he could do nothing in face of the reaction which, at Randolph's bidding, swept the Southern Republicans back to their practices of 1801 and their professions of 1798. The force of reactionary feeling was shown in speeches which revealed a dangerous chasm between North and South. On the question of fortifying New York, Southern Republicans took ground which caused New York Democrats to feel toward Virginia a disgust as deep as ever had been felt by Burr. Nelson of Maryland favored abandoning the cities altogether in case of attack: "When the enemy comes, let them take our towns, and let us retire into the country." Holland of North Carolina regarded the seaboard cities as so many enemies:
- "If New York and our other cities were only tolerably fortified, Mr. Holland was confident that we should go to war. He lamented the consequences of that disposition that is for novelty in this country,—a disposition that cannot be quelled. Our commercial towns are defenceless, and that is our only safety at present. I want to see not a single ship, or any preparation for war."
Eppes of Virginia, the President's son-in-law, spoke hotly against the doctrine of defence:—
- "If there is any principle which ought to be hooted at in a Republican government, it is the very principle laid down by the gentleman from New York as the basis of his reasoning,—that to preserve peace we ought to be prepared for war. Sir, it is this very principle which is the source of all the miseries of Europe."
John Randolph also favored abandoning New York in case of attack:—
- "Suppose New York ever so well fortified, an army may land above the city and cut off its intercourse with the country. A fortification there would be made for the enemy. Not a man of our army would have escaped in the last war from Long Island, if the enemy's general had not been treacherous to his duty; and all the calamities of that campaign might have been avoided if our army had retreated into the country."
Answer to arguments like these was of course impossible. The only final answer was to take the Southern people at their word, and to assert as a principle the rule that seaboard cities, being entitled to no protection from government in case of attack, should have the right to protect themselves by inviting the enemy to occupy them. Boston and New York had no reason to fear the operation of such a rule, if it suited the interests of Virginia; but as an argument even this logic would have availed nothing, because so deep was Virginian antipathy to cities that Randolph and all his friends would have answered with one voice, "We expect no better!"
The unwillingness of the Southern Republicans to fortify extended only to forts and ships, not to gunboats. Randolph had not much faith in gunboats; but his friends were willing to spend comparatively large sums on these cheap defences. Their theory was reasonable. A coast like that of America could not be protected by fixed fortifications alone,—only some system of movable batteries could answer the whole purpose; but in such a system everything depended on the effectiveness of the battery to be selected, and no one could say that the gunboat would prove to be effective. Most sea-going people pronounced it a failure; and in the navy, gunboat service was never popular. The real argument for gunboats was their assumed cheapness; but Gallatin and the Northern Democrats, as well as the Federalists, foresaw that the supposed economy was a delusion. A gunboat cost some ten thousand dollars or less, and a whole flotilla of gunboats could be built for the price of a frigate; but no one could say how much this flotilla would cost in annual repairs or in actual service. The life of a gunboat was short.
These doubts had no effect on the majority of the House. "Fortifications will be of no possible service unless they are manned," argued Nelson, "and to man them we must have a large standing army." He wanted to know whether the House was prepared to adopt a system that would require the raising of above one hundred thousand men. If forts were of no possible service unless they were always manned,—new as the assertion was,—surely gunboats were open to the same objection; yet Nelson wanted to spend three hundred thousand dollars in building gunboats, and he was willing to build any number of gunboats the navy might ask for.
The Northern seaboard representatives rejected the offer of gunboats, and allowed the Southern States to dispose of them. No appropriation for fortifying New York could be obtained. The theory that seaboard cities could not be defended received general assent; but many of the members went further, and declared that no danger to those cities existed. A policy of neglecting defence might be safe in peace, when foreign nations had every interest to avoid a war; but nothing could warrant the common assertion that danger of war existed only from America herself, at a moment when France was attacking American commerce by measures of actual warfare, when England was hesitating whether to permit America to trade at all except with the British Islands, and when diplomatic relations with Spain had ceased, the ministers at Madrid and Washington had been withdrawn, and a Spanish army was threatening New Orleans.
Willis Alston of North Carolina, chiefly known as an object of Randolph's peculiar contempt and personal violence, took as strong ground as Randolph himself on these questions. On the other hand Josiah Quincy showed in a high degree the art of irritating opponents by his manner of expressing a low opinion of their sense and motives; and the Southern members resented this treatment the more because Quincy was a man well born and well educated, whose social standing could not be questioned. In reply to his taunts Alston resorted to the well-worn commonplaces of the Republican party. "The present Administration," said he, "has taken up a new system of defence,—it is that of saving the public money. This system is new, and not known in Federal times. We have not gone on increasing taxes, like our predecessors." The assertion could not be denied; but Quincy's retort was not the lesspungent. "The Federal Administration," he replied, "saved the country from danger and disgrace: I wish I could say as much of their successors."
The whole issue lay in these short charges and counter-charges. To some extent the President, his Cabinet, and the Senate had become converted to Federalist views; but the influence of Randolph and of popular prejudices peculiar to Southern society held the House stiffly to an impracticable creed. Whatever the North and East wanted the South and West refused. Jefferson's wishes fared no better than the requests of the State and city of New York; the House showed no alacrity in taking up the subject of roads, canals, or universities. The only innovation which made its way through Congress was the Act of Feb. 10, 1807, appropriating fifty thousand dollars for the establishment of a coast survey, for this was an object in which the Southern States were interested as deeply as the Northern. Even the Senate's appropriation for beginning the Cumberland Road was indefinitely postponed by the House.
This jealousy of government could not without ill-temper be so severely enforced. Randolph's manners were unconsciously imitated by the men who imitated his statesmanship, and the Southern Republicans treated their Northern allies with autocratic harshness as offensive as that of Randolph. The Federalist members, for the most part able to hold their own and even to return such treatment with manners still more arrogant, enjoyed the irritation of Democrats like Sloan and Smilie, Bidwell and Varnum. If the Southern planters refused to aid in fortifying New York, the Federalists were the stronger for the refusal; and if Virginia was anxious not to risk her tobacco and corn for the sake of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, the Federalists for the most part hoped that the Northern cities might be induced to take care of themselves. Yet although the Federalists were not sorry to see the Pennsylvania Democrats ground under the heel of Virginia, they were surprised to find how rapidly the sectional spirit increased in the Southern States when slavery was in question. The debate on the abolition of the slave-trade startled Democrats and Federalists alike.
The paragraph in the President's Message which related to the slave-trade was regularly referred to a special committee. Peter Early of Georgia was chairman, while Thomas Mann Randolph of Virginia, John Campbell of Maryland, Thomas Keenan of North Carolina, and three Northern representatives completed the number. Early took the subject promptly in hand, and Dec. 15, 1806, reported a Bill, which was referred to the House in committee, and came up two days afterward for debate. The Bill declared the importation of negroes as slaves unlawful; imposed a fine on the importer, with forfeiture of ship and cargo; and authorized the President to employ the armed vessels of the United States in enforcing the law.
Under the Act which prescribed rules for forfeiture, the cargo of a forfeited vessel was to be sold on behalf of the United States government. The cargo of a slave-ship consisted in negroes. Under Early's Bill, every negro imported thenceforth into the country became forfeit to the United States, and must be sold by the United States government to the highest bidder.
The Pennsylvania Democrats, imbued with Quaker principles in regard to slavery, could scarcely be expected to approve of a policy which made the government an owner and trader in slaves. The New Englanders, though the slave-trade had been to a great extent a Rhode Island interest, were little inclined to adopt a law under which any cargo of negroes that might be driven on their coast must be sold at public auction in the streets of Newport or Boston; and perhaps even some of the Southern members might have admitted that the chance of collusion between importers and buyers was a serious objection to the Bill. No one could suppose that such a measure would pass without strenuous opposition, and no one could have felt surprise at seeing Sloan of New Jersey immediately rise to offer an amendment providing that every forfeited negro should be entitled to freedom.
Upon this amendment a debate began which soon became hot. Early took the ground that without his provision for forfeiture and sale, the law would be ineffectual; that no man in the South would inform against the slave-dealer if his act were to turn loose a quantity of savage negroes on the public at large.
- "We must either get rid of them or they of us; there is no alternative; and I leave it to gentlemen to be determined which course would be pursued. There can be no doubt on this head. I will speak out; it is not my practice to be mealy-mouthed on a subject of importance. Not one of them would be left alive in a year."
The Southern members supported Early, and the Northern members knew not what to propose. The negroes could not be returned to Africa, because they were all brought from the interior, and the coast tribes would re-enslave or massacre them. Pennsylvania and Ohio were little more anxious than Virginia to receive such citizens. Binding them to masters for a term of years was suggested, but objections were made on both sides.
The debate was adjourned, resumed, adjourned again; and although the Northern speakers were forbearing, the Southern members more and more lost their temper.
- "You have got into a great difficulty," said David R. Williams of South Carolina; "you are completely hobbled. It is so bad that you cannot go on, and you must stick where you are. Let me ask what is the usual conduct of legislatures on local subjects. Do they not inquire of those who are informed? Are they not guided by those who are competent to judge? The gentlemen from the South, who understand this subject, tell you how this business must be done; but the gentlemen over the way seem anxious now, as on a former occasion, to draw a revenue from the blood and sweat of the miserable Africans. I will not say that this is their motive, but their conduct certainly justifies a suspicion that their object is to pass such a law as will connive at the continuance of the trade for the emoluments of their constituents."
The discussion was further embittered by a motion made by Smilie of Pennsylvania to make the importation of negroes a felony to be punished by death. This proposition called out another display of Early's frankness.
- "We have been asked," said he, "what punishment can be considered too severe for so atrocious a crime. Without answering the question in the abstract, it will be sufficient to answer it by a practical view of the subject. How do people consider the transaction? Do they consider it such an atrocious crime? They do not."
The Pennsylvania philanthropists had assumed that they could at least follow Jefferson in holding slavery to be an evil and the slave-trade to be a violation of human rights; but even these points were no longer conceded.
- "All the people in the Southern States," continued Early, "are concerned in slavery. It is not, then, considered as criminal. . . . I will tell the truth,—a large majority of people in the Southern States do not consider slavery as even an evil."
The death-penalty was rejected by a vote of sixty-three to fifty-three, almost the whole Pennsylvania delegation voting in its favor. Bidwell of Massachusetts then moved an amendment, "that no person shall be sold as a slave by virtue of this Act;" and the House divided, sixty against sixty, nearly all the Pennsylvanians supporting Bidwell, while ten of the seventeen New York members showed the influence of slavery in their State by voting with the Southern slave-owners. Six Southern men, including the member for Delaware, joined the Pennsylvanians and New Englanders in this protest against turning the government into a slave-trading agency; while but two Northern men besides the members from New York voted with the South. Macon, the Speaker, by his casting vote threw out the amendment.
Even after this point was carried, notwithstanding the time wasted in going over and over again the same arguments on either side, the Bill made no progress. Men like Sloan and Smilie were not gifted with great genius, but found infinite resources in their patient obstinacy; and no one could fail to see that the true sympathies of the House were with them. Their first object was to prevent the forfeiture of the negroes, because forfeiture implied title, and the United States government could have no title in these human beings, mere captives in war of barbarous tribes; but on that point the House was decidedly against them, and even Josiah Quincy insisted that they were wrong. Forced to yield on the issue of forfeiture, they resisted with the greater obstinacy the sale of the forfeited negroes; and their objections were so obviously sound that in spite of adverse votes they held the Bill in suspense, and even secured its recommittal to a select committee of their own choice.
The Southerners, who insisted that their knowledge and experience should guide the House on a matter which they then preferred to consider local, chafed under the patient stolidity of Quaker conscientiousness, but submitted, rather in defiance than in conciliation, to throw the Bill into Northern hands. The recommittal was ordered Jan. 8, 1807, by a vote of 76 to 46; January 20 the new Bill was reported, and the struggle began again as at first. January 28 the Senate sent down a Bill of its own for the same purpose. The Senate debates during the session were not reported, and those of the House were reported only in part, and briefly; but by some means the Senate was persuaded to introduce one rigorous provision into its Bill, prohibiting the coastwise domestic slave-trade in vessels of less burden than forty tons, so that small craft found at sea with cargoes of slaves could not escape under pretence of being engaged in the domestic slave-trade. At best, the Bill could not be effective. The Southern members frankly said that they could frame no Bill likely to be executed, which would prevent slave-traders from smuggling negroes across the Florida boundary or from the West Indian Islands; but the prohibition of the coastwise transportof negroes in small vessels seemed necessary in order to maintain even a pretence of stopping the trade, and the Senate saw no objection to it.
The House hesitated painfully between Pennsylvanian and Virginian influence. Very rarely did the Pennsylvanians assert themselves, and they did so with great moderation; but they were conscientious men, and they had behind them not only the moral support of Jefferson, but also the steady influence of Secretary Gallatin, whose determined hostility to slavery and the slave-trade was proved at every moment of his public life. When, Feb. 9, 1807, the debate was resumed in Committee of the Whole, a majority began by voting in favor of the death-penalty. The next question rose on a new section in regard to forfeitures. The Pennsylvania Bill provided that the forfeited negroes should be indentured for a term of years in some free State or Territory. The proposition seemed reasonable in itself, and calculated to give no offence to the South; but Early declared that the inhabitants of the Southern States would resist this provision with their lives. "We want no civil wars, no rebellions, no insurrections, no resistance to the authority of the government. Give effect, then, to this wish, and do not pass this Bill as it now stands."
Even Pennsylvania patience was disturbed by an outbreak so extravagant. Smilie, who was Irish by birth, obliged Early to take back and explain away his words; but the flash of temper answered its purpose,—Early carried his point. Throughout the struggle the Southern representatives took the ground that the subject belonged to them; that they were well aware of the defects in the Bill; that they did not expect wholly to stop the trade, although they wished to do so; but that any stronger measure would revolt public opinion in the South, and would leave the trade open, because no one would venture to enforce the Act. Under such circumstances, seeing that in any case the trade would continue, the Pennsylvanians naturally argued that if only in order to assert a principle, the law should be made severe; but they were abandoned by the New Englanders, and beaten. Eleven of the Pennsylvanians clung to the death-penalty in spite of Quaker principles; while not only Barnabas Bidwell, but even Josiah Quincy deserted them. The House ended by leaving to each State the decision as to the fate of the forfeited negroes; and at length, February 13, weary of the interminable dispute, the House adopted the Senate Bill with some amendments.Hitherto John Randolph had taken little part in the debate; he voted steadily with the Southern representatives, but his well-known antislavery theories kept him quiet. His silence did not last. The Senate disagreed to one of the amendments which had passed the House; a committee of conference reported, and the Bill came up again on their report. In a final debate the Southern members attacked the prohibition of the coastwise trade, the whole measure being thus in their eyes vitiated. Early declared that the Act would not prevent the introduction of a single slave; Randolph asserted that the coastwise prohibition touched the right of private property: "He feared lest, at a future period, it might be made the pretext of universal emancipation; he had rather lose the Bill, he had rather lose all the Bills of the session, he had rather lose every Bill passed since the establishment of the government, than agree to the provision contained in this slave-bill. It went to blow up the Constitution in ruins." He prophesied that if ever the time of disunion between the States should arrive, the line of severance would not be between Eastern and Western, but between slaveholding and non-slaveholding States. He said that if ever the time should come when the South should have to depend on the North for assistance against the slaves, he should despair. "All he asked was that the North should remain neutral; that it should not erect itself into an abolition society." The vehemence of the Southern orators was in this instance natural, for the coastwise prohibition cut far more deeply into the constitutional rights of slave-owners than all the other provisions of the Bill which they had so obstinately and successfully resisted; yet on the division they were beaten by the large majority of sixty-three to forty-nine. New York, which cared little for the slaves, cared less for the Constitution, and reversed its former vote. The Senate Bill, Feb. 26, 1807, was sent to the President.
That Randolph and other States-rights Republicans should be deeply irritated was a matter of course. In their effort to tone the Bill to make it suit the opinions of slaveholding communities, they exhausted their strength and the public patience; and they found a precedent slipped upon them, which would warrant almost any legislative interference with slavery. Randolph, alive to the bearings of all legislation which touched his class interests, at once introduced a Bill to explain and amend the Act. Josiah Quincy promptly moved its reference. The day was February 27, and in another week the Ninth Congress would expire. Randolph opposed the reference, and urged the immediate passage of his Bill, but was defeated by a vote of sixty to forty-nine. His Bill was referred to the House in committee; it was even made an order for the next day, but it was never taken up.Randolph declared the hope that should his Bill fail, the Virginia delegation would wait on the President and remonstrate against his signing the Act for Prohibiting the Slave Trade; but no such step was taken, and March 2, 1807, President Jefferson approved this alarming measure. He at least had no constitutional scruples, and paid no attention to the scruples of others. The only result of the long sectional struggle was to disgust the Southern Republicans and their Pennsylvanian allies alike; while, so far from obtaining a law which should suit Southern views of the slave-trade, their Act shocked the pride and threatened the property of every slave-owner in the South.
The disasters of the Southern, or what was afterward known as the States-rights, party were largely due to temper. The habit of command, giving self-confidence and vigor of will, opened a boundless field for extravagances. The strength of men like Randolph and Early was their chief weakness; they had every sense except the sense of proportion. The mole-hill which tripped them seemed as serious an obstacle as the distant mountain range, where a false step would dash them to fragments; and when at last they reached the mountain range, with its impassable chasms, where temper was helpless, they saw in it only a mole-hill. That men like Sloan, the butt of the house, and like Smilie and Findley, the ordinary representatives of an intellectual mediocrity somewhat beneath the Pennsylvanian average, should habitually end in carrying their points, in singular and unexpected ways, against the ablest leaders of New England Federalism and the most gifted masters of Virginian oratory; that they should root up everything in their path, and end by giving to the whole country the characteristics of their own common-place existence,—was partly due, not to their energy or their talents, but to the contempt which their want of genius inspired. Not their own wisdom, but their antagonists' errors decided the result, and overthrew successively Church and State in New England and a slave-owning oligarchy throughout half the continent. The Southern gentry could not learn patience. John Randolph, in many respects the most gifted man produced by the South in his generation, and certainly the one who most exaggerated the peculiar qualities and faults of his class, flung away the advantages of every success by attempting to punish his opponents,—as though the hare had stopped in his race to beat the tortoise with a whip. Punishment of Pennsylvania Democrats was waste of time and strength; sarcasm did not affect them; social contempt did not annihilate them; defeats made no impression upon them. They had no leaders and no well-defined policy, but they gravitated like inert weights to an equilibrium. What they wanted they were sure in the end to get.
Randolph's disappointment in regard to the slave-bill was but a single example of a law. After domineering over the House during the whole session, and impressing his own character upon its acts, he attempted at the end to coerce it into a quarrel with the Senate. A Bill for repealing the salt-tax and continuing the Mediterranean Fund was sent to the Senate, and the Senate sent it back with an amendment which reduced the duty on salt from twenty cents a bushel to twelve cents, without wholly abolishing it. Usage and courtesy required that a committee of conference should be appointed; but Randolph insisted that the House should abruptly adhere to its original Bill, and he carried his point by the large majority of ninety-three to twenty. The Senate accepted the challenge, and in its turn voted to adhere. The Bill was lost; and while the salt-tax continued in force, producing some five hundred thousand dollars, the Mediterranean Fund, producing one million two hundred thousand dollars, must expire by limitation. Congress reached this point February 26, the same day when the slave-bill was passed against Randolph's protest.
The Pennsylvania members allowed themselves to be drawn into this step; but they had hardly given their votes before waking to their mistake. The next day a committee was moved to reconsider the subject; and in spite of Randolph's remonstrances, the motion was carried by sixty to forty, every Pennsylvanian changing his vote. Randolph, exasperated to the last degree, attempted to block the measure by obstinacy. When the new Bill was taken up in committee of the whole House February 28, he consumed the day in dilatory motions, calling the yeas and nays until he could no longer induce one fifth of the members to support him in asking for them. The House sat until half-past one in the morning; and when at last the Bill came to a vote, Randolph and his friends left the House without a quorum. After several counts, a quorum was reported, and the Bill was passed; but the yeas and nays were not taken, and many suspicions were expressed that a quorum was not actually present. Nevertheless the Pennsylvanians won their victory; the Bill became law at the last moment of the session. Randolph's conduct ended in destroying his own influence; and the Pennsylvanians felt that the time had come when an alliance with the Democrats of New England against the oligarchy of Virginia could no longer be postponed.
This was the situation at Washington when, on the last day of the Ninth Congress, a messenger arrived from England bringing from Monroe and Pinkney a treaty of commerce. The President's attempt to unite his party on a liberal domestic policy had not succeeded; and many years were to pass before Congress should see another session devoted to domestic affairs.
- Jefferson's Writings (Ford), viii. 502.
- Adams's Randolph, p. 206.
- Adams's Randolph, p. 208.
- Annals of Congress, 1806-1807, p. 389.
- Annals of Congress, 1806-1807, p. 598.
- Annals of Congress, 1806-1807, p. 610.
- Annals of Congress, 1806-1807, p. 398.
- Annals of Congress, 1806-1807, p. 400.
- Annals of Congress, 1806-1807, p. 168.
- Annals of Congress, 1806-1807, p. 183.
- Annals of Congress, 1806-1807, p. 238.
- Annals of Congress, 1806-1807, p. 267.
- Annals of Congress, 1806-1807, p. 477.
- Annals of Congress, 1806-1807, p. 626.
- Annals of Congress, 1806-1807, p. 635.
- Annals of Congress, 1806-1807, p. 635.
- Diary of J. Q. Adams, i. 464.