« PreviousContinue »
the person whom it would be designed to aid, CHAP. VIII. it might produce serious political mischief. But 1796. the American ministers employed at foreign courts were instructed to seize every fair occasion to express unofficially the interest taken by the president in the fate of La Fayette; and to employ the most eligible means in their power to obtain his liberty, or to meliorate his situation. A confidential person had been sent to Berlin to solicit his discharge but before this messenger had reached his destination, the king of Prussia had delivered over his illustrious prisoner to the emperor of Germany. Mr. Pinckney had been instructed not only to indicate the wishes of the president to the Austrian minister at London, but to endeavour unofficially to obtain the powerful mediation of Britain, and had at one time flattered himself that the cabinet of St. James would have taken an interest in the case; but this hope was soon dissipated.
After being disappointed in obtaining the mediation of the British cabinet, the president addressed the following letter to the emperor of Germany.
"It will readily occur to your majesty that occasions may sometimes exist, on which official considerations would constrain the chief of a nation to be silent and passive in relation even to objects which affect his sensibility and claim his interposition as a man. Finding myself precisely in this situation at present, I take the liberty of writing this private letter to your majesty, being persuaded that my motives will also be my apology for it.
"In common with the people of this country, I retain a strong and cordial sense of the services rendered to them by the marquis de La Fayette; and my friendship for him has been constant and sincere. It is natural, therefore, that I should sympathize with him and his family in their misfortunes, and endeavour to mitigate the calamities they experience, among which his present confinement is not the least distressing.
"I forbear to enlarge on this delicate subject. Permit me only to submit to your majesty's consideration, whether his long imprisonment, and the confiscation of his estate, and the indigence and dispersion of his family, and the painful anxieties incident to all these circumstances, do not form an assemblage of sufferings which recommend him to the mediation of humanity? allow me, sir, on this occasion, to be its organ; and to entreat that he may be permitted to come to this country on such conditions, and under such restrictions as your majesty may think it expedient to prescribe.
"As it is a maxim with me not to ask what, under similar circumstances, I would not grant, your majesty will do me the justice to believe that this request appears to me to correspond with those great principles of magnanimity and wisdom which form the basis of sound policy and durable glory."
This letter was transmitted to Mr. Pinckney to be conveyed to the emperor through his minister at London. How far it operated in mitigating immediately the rigour of La Fayette's confinement, or in obtaining his liberation, remains unascertained.
Letter from general Washington to Mr. Jefferson...Hostile measures of France against the United States... Mr. Monroe recalled and general Pinckney appointed to succeed him ...General Washington's valedictory address to the people of the United States, in which he declines being considered as a candidate for the presidency...The minister of France endeavours to influence the approaching election...The president's speech to congress... He denies the authenticity of certain spurious letters published as his in 1776...John Adams elected president, and Thomas Jefferson vice president...General Washington retires to Mount Vernon... Political situation of the United States at this period... The French government refuses to receive general Pinckney as minister...Congress is convened...President's speech... Three envoys extraordinary deputed to negotiate with France...Their treatment... Measures of hostility adopted by the American government against France...General Washington appointed commander in chief of the Ameri can army... His death... And character.
By the confidential friends of the president, his fixed purpose to retire from office at the end of his second term had long been known and by the community at large it was generally suspected. Those who dreaded a change of system in changing the person of the executive, manifested an earnest desire to avoid this hazard, by being permitted once more to offer to the public choice a person who, amidst all the fierce conflicts of party, still remained the object of public veneration. But the resolution of the chief magistrate was to be shaken only by the obvious approach of a perilous crisis, which, endangering the
CHAP. IX. safety of the nation, would make it unworthy of 1796. his character, and incompatible with his prin
ciples to retreat from its service. In the apprehension that the co-operation of external with internal causes might bring about such a crisis, he had yielded to the representations of those who urged him to leave himself master of his conduct, by withholding a public declaration of his intention, until the propriety of affording a reasonable time to fix on a successor should require its disclosure. "If," said colonel Hamilton in a letter on this subject of the fifth of July, "a storm gathers, how can you retreat? this is a most serious question."
The suspense produced in the public opinion by this silence on the part of the chief magistrate, seemed to redouble the efforts of those who laboured to rob him of the affection of the people, and to attach odium to the political system which he had pursued. As passion alone is able successfully to contend with passion, they still sought in the hate which America bore to Britain, and in her love to France, for the most powerful means with which to eradicate her love to Washington. Amongst the various artifices employed to effect this object, was the publication of those queries which had been propounded by the president to his cabinet council previous to the arrival of Mr. Genet. By this publication, it was intended to demonstrate the existence of a disposition in the chief magistrate unfriendly to the French republic, of "a machiavelian policy, which nothing but the universal sentiment of enthusiastic affec
tion displayed by the people of the United States CHAP. IX. on the arrival of Mr. Genet could have subdued." 1796. Some idea of the intemperance of the day may be collected from the conclusion of that number of a series of virulent essays, in which these queries were inserted, and from recollecting that it was addressed to a man who, more than any other, had given character as well as independence to his country, and whose life, devoted to her service, had exhibited one pure undeviating course of virtuous and disinterested exertion to promote her interests.
"The foregoing queries were transmitted for consideration to the heads of departments, previously to a meeting to be held at the president's house. The text needs no commentary. It has stamped upon its front in characters brazen enough for idolatry to comprehend, perfidy and ingratitude. To doubt in such a case was dishonourable, to proclaim those doubts treachery. For the honour of the American character and of human nature, it is to be lamented that the records of the United States exhibit such a stupendous monument of degeneracy. It will almost require the authenticity of holy writ to persuade posterity that it is not a libel ingeniously contrived to injure the reputation of the saviour of his country."
As this state paper was perfectly confidential, and had been communicated only to the cabinet ministers, Mr. Jefferson thought proper to free himself from any possible suspicion of having given it publicity, by assuring the president that