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Ch. VJ.l SUBSTANCE OF
in placing Varnum in the speaker's chair.
Mr. Madison sent in his message the next day, and took occasion, at the very opening of it, "to communicate the commencement of a favorable change" in the foreign relations of the United States. Having mentioned the negotiations carried on with Mr. Erskine, the president further remarked: "While I take pleasure in doing justice to the councils of his Britannic Majesty, which, no longer adhering to the policy which made an abandonment by France of her decrees a prerequisite to a revocation of the British orders, have substituted the amicable course which has issued thus happily; I cannot do less than refer to the proposal heretofore made on the part of the United States, embracing a restoration of the suspended commerce, as a proof of the spirit of accommodation, which has at no time been intermitted, and to the result which now calls for our congratulations, as corroborating the principles by which the public councils have been guided, during a period of the most trying embarrassments. The discontinuance of the British orders, as they respect the United States, having been thus arranged, a communication of the event has been forwarded in one of our public vessels, to our minister-plenipotentiary at Paris, with instructions to avail himself of the important addition thereby made to the considerations which press on the justice of the French government a revocation of its decrees, or such a modification of them as that they shall cease to violate the neutral commerce of the United States. The
THE MESSAGE. 119
revision of our commercial laws, proper to adapt them to the arrangement which has taken place with Great Britain, will doubtless engage the early attention of Congress."
The president also informed Congress that, under the brightening prospect of affairs, he had reduced the gunboat armament, except at New Orleans, to the condition it was to be in during peace, and had discharged the militia; and he suggested the propriety of modifying the laws respecting the army and navy establishments. The fortification of the sea-coast was in progress, he said, but more money was wanted to accomplish it. The protection and encouragement of "the several branches of manufacture which had been recently instituted or extended by the laudable exertions of our citizens," was recommended. It was a matter of just gratulation that "the whole of the eight per cent. stock remaining due by the United States," had been "reimbursed," and that above $9,500,000 had been in the treasury on the first of the preceding month. The falling off of the revenue from "the suspension of exports, and the consequent decrease of importations," was gently touched upon, and a hopeful anticipation of the following year indulged in. Nothing but "matters particularly urgent" were spoken of, and both "fidelity and alacrity" in co-operating with the Houses "for the welfare and happiness of our country" pledged to them.
No material alterations were made in the laws, nor any measures of particular importance adopted, during this extraordinary session, which lasted only five weeks, and was closed on the 20th of June. John Randolph and the section of the party which agreed with him, manifested considerable discontent, and opposed the policy of the administration in various ways; but the general expectation of returning peace and prosperity seemed, on the whole, to have produced a soothing effect upon the deliberations and action of Congress.
The British government was not at all pleased with the conduct of its minister at Washington, and peremptorily refused to carry into effect the arrangement agreed upon by Mr. Erskine and the secretary of state. It was charged upon Mr. Erskine, that he had exceeded his instructions, and had done so knowingly, and in contravention of the policy of the British government. The news of this unlooked for result reached America soon after the adjournment of Congress, and Mr. Erskine was compelled to discharge the unpleasant duty of announcing that his government did not approve of his conduct in the recent negotiations. The president thereupon had no alternative. He issued another proclamation, August 10th, declaring the act of non-intercourse to be revived and in full effect. Mr. Erskine soon after returned to England.
It is hardly possible to imagine the irritating effect upon the community produced by this sudden dashing of the hopes and expectations of commercial advantages. "Free trade and sailor's rights!" was an exclamation heard on every hand; the impressment of our seamen, and the violations of our flag, were discussed and denounced vehe
mently at public gatherings; and while the aged sires gave utterance to theii indignant sense of wrong and outrage, the younger men stood by in silence, their eyes flashing with responsive fire, and their hearts glowing with manly patriotism. Had the president then come forward boldly, and put the contest with Great Britain to the issue of the sword, there can be no doubt that the war would have met with popular favor and support. But Mr. Madison was too cautious and peace-loving, to hasten matters and precipitate the crisis which was evidently not far distant; and whatever judgment may be pronounced upon his policy, it is but right and just to give the due meed of praise to the purity of his motives.
The federalists, who had rejoiced in the prospects of renewed intercourse with England, and had boasted of the evidently friendly dispositions of that country towards the United States, were greatly vexed at this sudden change in international relations; and they ventured to charge upon the administration insincerity, and a determination not to adjust the difficulties between the two nations. Mr. Dwight expresses the federalist view very strongly: "Mr. Madison had just entered upon the office of president of the United States. Mr. Jefferson had left the government surrounded with difficulties and embarrassments. The foreign commerce of the country, under the system of embargo and non-intercourse, was destroyed, and all the various branches of domestic industry—agricultural, mercantile, and mechanical —were in a state of* deep depression
or stagnation; and the community were becoming very uneasy under privations, which were not only unnecessary, but extremely injurious and oppressive. Under such circumstances, it was a stroke of good policy in him, at his entrance upon the duties of chief magistrate, to excite popular feeling in favor of his administration, and nothing would be more likely to produce such an effect, than the adoption of measures which would relieve the nation from the multiplied evils of the restrictive policy. And it required no extraordinary degree of foresight to discern, that if such an arrangement as was contemplated with Mr. Erskine should be accomplished, it would be cordially welcomed throughout the country, and render the new chief magistrate universally popular. At the same time, if the arrangement should be rejected by the British government, whatever the cause for refusing to ratify it might be, it could hardly fail to raise a spirit of resentment in the United States, of a proportionate extent with the gratification which the adjustment had excited."* It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to say, that the republicans scouted this charge as both unjust and without any solid foundation. At the same time, a number of the supporters of the administration held the view, that the policy of the executive was too lukewarm and too conciliatory towards England, and, as we have said above, war at that date would have met with general approbation.
* "HUtory of the Hartford Convention" pp. 109, 110.
Early in October, Mr. Jackson arrived in the United States as successor to Mr. Erskine. He was a diplomatist of some standing, and had served recently in the mission at Denmark, the result of which had been the seizure of its entire fleet by Great Britain, (September, 1807;) and he appeared to have come to America with rather exaggerated notions of his own importance, and with a disposition to act superciliously towards the government. At first, there were several personal interviews between Mr. Jackson and Mr. Smith, the secretary of state; but the latter soon afterwards sent the British envoy word, that all "further discussions" were to be in " the written form." Mr. Jackson protested against this course of procedure, and it speedily became evident, from the tone and temper of the correspondence, that no favorable result was to be expected. Both sides were vexed and disappointed; and when Mr. Jackson insinuated, that there was a sort of collusion between the American government and Mr. Erskine, it was determined at once that no further intercourse could be held with a minister who had thus insulted the executive of the United States. An account of Mr. Jackson's course was transmitted to the British government, and not long after he was recalled: though it was evident that his conduct was not disapproved at home.
Our limits do not admit of dwelling upon the aggravation of political excitement, the criminations and recriminations, the personal affronts offered to Mr. Jackson, the unwarrantable procedure on his part in addressing a circular letter to the British consuls in the United States, vindicating his course in the recent negotiation; they are well worthy the student's consideration, not so much for their intrinsic importance, as because of their connection with the progress of the disputes with England which resulted in the war of 1812.
On the 29th of November, a week earlier than usual, Congress assembled according to adjournment. The next day the president sent in his message, which is worth noticing, as it exhibits the great change which a few months had brought about in the condition and prospects of the country. Having mentioned the failure of the negotiation with Mr. Erskine, and the course pursued by his successor, the president went on to say: "The correspondence between the department of state and this minister will show, how unessentiallv the features presented in its commencement have been varied in its progress. It will show also, that, forgetting the respect due to all governments, he did not refrain from imputations on this, which required that no further communications should be received from him. And it would indicate a want of confidence, due to a government which so well understands and exacts what it becomes foreign ministers to show it, not to infer that the misconduct of its own representative will be viewed in the same light in which it has been regarded here."
"With France, the other belligerent," continued Mr. Madison, "whose trespasses on our commercial rights have long been the subject of our just remonstrances, the posture of our relations
does not correspond with the measures taken on the part of the United States, to effect a favorable change." And again;—" By some of the other belligerents, although professing just and amicable dispositions, injuries materially affecting our commerce have not been duly controlled or repressed. In these cases, the interpositions deemed proper on our part have not been omitted. But it well deserves the consideration of the legislature, how far both the safety and the honor of the American flag may be consulted, by adequate provisions against that collusive prostitution of it by individuals, unworthy of the American name, which has so much favored the real or pretended suspicions, under which the honest commerce of their fellow-citizens has suffered."
The president also called the attention of Congress to the state of the national defences; recommended the " giving to our militia, the great bulwark of our security, and resource of our power, an organization the best adapted to eventual situations, for which the United States ought to be prepared;" assured the House that no loan had been found necessary, but that a deficiency in the revenue for the ensuing year was to be expected; and concluded his message with words of encouragement and congratulation: "In the midst of the wrongs and vexations experienced from external causes, there is much room for congratulation on the prosperity and happiness flowing from our situation at home. The blessing of health has never been more universal. The fruits of the seasons, though in particular articles Cn. VI.]
and districts short of their usual redundancy, are more than sufficient for our wants and our comforts. The face of our country everywhere presents the evidence of laudable enterprise, of extensive capital, and of durable improvement. In a cultivation of the materials, and the extension of useful manufactures, more especially in the general application of household fabrics, we behold a rapid diminution of our dependence on foreign supplies. Nor is it unworthy of reflection, that this revolution in our pursuits and habits is in no slight degree a consequence of the impolitic and arbitrary edicts, by which the contending nations, in endeavoring, each of them, to obstruct our trade with the other, have so far abridged our means of procuring the productions and manufactures of which our own are now taking the place. Recollecting always, that for every advantage which may contribute to distinguish our lot from that to which others are doomed by the unhappy spirit of the times, we are indebted to that Divine Providence whose goodness has been so remarkably extended to this rising nation, it becomes us to cherish a devout gratitude, and to implore from the same Omnipotent source, a blessing on the consultations and measures about to be undertaken for the welfare of our beloved country."
In the Senate, a series of resolutions offered by Mr. Giles were passed with much unanimity, and the course of the administration in respect to the British negotiation, was approved in strong terms. The House took up the question, and after sharp debate, continued
for more than three weeks, agreed to the resolutions by a vote of seventy-two to forty-one. The offending British envoy, as we have said, was soon after recalled, but his conduct met with no censure at home, and no apology was offered to the American government.
Mr. Macon, in behalf of the committee of foreign relations, reported a bill which prohibited all British and French vessels from entering any port of the United States, and the importation of goods from either country, unless brought directly from England or France; and which also provided for the discontinuance of these prohibitions whenever those nations ceased to violate neutral commerce. The Senate • disagreed to this bill when it was sent up to that body by the House, and as neither branch was willing to give way, the bill was lost. Subsequently, the Senate concurred with the House in providing that, in case either Great Britain or France should, before the 3d of March, 1811, revoke its edicts in violation of the rights of neutrals, the president should, by proclamation, declare the facts; and if the other nation did not, within three months thereafter, pursue a like course, the act interdicting commercial intercourse was to be revived against such nation.
Few acts of general importance were passed. The law for detaching a hundred thousand men from the militia was continued; and there were acts passed for taking the third census; and for the creation of a loan for the payment of the public debt. Mr. Randolph proved himself very active in examining into financial and economical ques
THE ACTION OF CONGRESS.