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In the Clerk's Office of the District Court in and for the Eastern District of Virginia.
The design of this pamphlet, an edition of which was printed at Rich. mond some years ago, is to convey to the public the “Virginia Report of 1799,” a state paper which, having wrought a great effect upon the politi. cal parties of its day, is still,—though more praised than read, highly esteemed as a commentary on the Federal Constitution. The other papers which go along with the “Report,” are intended, like this preface, only to illustrate it.
After the lapse of so many years, the reader, it is hoped, will not take it amiss that his memory is refreshed as to some of the incidents of the period that gave birth to this document; a period perhaps the most critical in our national annals.
The present Federal Constitution, succeeding to the “Articles of Confederation,” having been ratified by eleven states, commenced its operation, nominally, on the 4th of March, 1789, under the auspices of WASHINGTON, as the first President. In his Cabinet, and in the first Congress, were organized the parties afterwards known as “Federalists” and “Republicans.” The former, under the sagacious lead of Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury, fearful of a recurrence of that anarchy which had overtaken the country under the imbecile government of the “Confederation,” were inclined to a vigorous exercise of the federal power,
and consequently adopted a liberal construction of the Federal Constitution.
The Republicans, on the other side, headed by Mr. Jefferson, were apprehensive of a gradual absorption, by the central government, of the powers reserved to the states and to the people. Consolidation was their great terror, as the absence of all government was the terror of their opponents; and consolidation they viewed, justly, as the forerunner not of monarchy only, but of despotism.
Mr. Hamilton, being a declared admirer of the English Constitution in the abstract, gave occasion to many of the opposite party to impute to him, and to his political associates, sentiments unfavourable to the existing institutions of the country; in short, a proclivity to monarchy. This suspicion, undoubtedly unjust as regards the great mass of the Federalists, was fortified by their avowed opinions touching the necessity of what, in the phrase of the time, was called a strong government. The occurrence of the French Revolution affected these parties with different emotions. The Republicans looked on in trusting faith that it would result in giving to France institutions modelled after our own, calculated to insure rational freedom, but affording no encouragement to licentiousness. The Federalists were less sanguine. They feared that the French people neither appreciated the blessings of liberty founded on law, nor were capable of attaining them, and they conceived all their conclusions confirmed by the succession of tragic scenes which accompanied the progress of the Revolution. Thenceforward sympathy with France constituted a prominent point of difference between their adversaries and themselves. In 1793, upon the execution of Louis XVI., a war broke out between France and England, which, as it was characterized by unusual animosity between the contending parties, led to an emulous violation by both of the rights of neutral commerce. From these outrages no country suffered more than the United States, the citizens of which, instead of uniting to require indemnity from both belligerents, allowed their partisan feelings to array them as the apologists, or the denouncers, of one or the other, as previous tendencies disposed them. The Republicans favoured France, influenced as well by a natural sympathy for a great people struggling, as they supposed, for freedom, as by gratitude for the assistance so recently received in the war of our Revolution, and animated by a hostility, not yet extinct, towards our former enemy, Great Britain. The Federalists leaned towards England as the champion of conservatism, and the bulwark against that pernicious license everywhere propagated by French writers and emissaries. The Republicans identified France with liberty, and cherished its cause with proportionate ardour. The Federalists saw in it only irreligion, private profligacy, bloody excess, and, in the end, the despotism of the sword, and abhorred it as a combination of all that was hateful to their reason, and their habits. On the other hand, England was to the Federalists the embodiment of a government at once vigorous and free; not insensible to the opinions of its people, but impassive to their prejudices and passions; and the regard .
due to those qualities, was extended to the country. To the Republicans, England was a monarchy, and their late oppressor, and now appeared to be a reluctant and surly friend, in each and all of which characters, it was alike odious. The war had not been long in progress, when many Americans, stimulated by French agents, and the thirst of gain, and relying upon the prepossessions of their countrymen, hastened to fit out armed vessels in several of our ports, to cruise under French commissions, against the enemies of France. England remonstrated, and there was issued, in consequence, General Washington’s famous proclamation of neutrality, which, with the instructions founded upon it, rigorously interdicted such enterprises for the future. This led to a correspondence between Mr. Jefferson, then Secretary of State, and Genet, the French minister, resident here, in which the latter, confiding in the supposed popular partiality for France, crowned a series of impertinences by threatening to appeal from the government to the people of America, and was in consequence, by the request of the President, recalled. Genet's recall,—his successor being a man of more moderation,-had the effect to restore those cordial feelings for France to which the former's indefensible conduct had given a shock, Meanwhile our commerce was suffering much from the depredations of both belligerents. In 1794, Mr. Jay, the Chief Justice of the United States, having been despatched as a special envoy to England, to adjust the numerous differences which had been accumulating with that country since the peace of 1783, the jealousy of France blazed fiercely out; and when, the next year, the treaty negotiated by Mr. Jay was ratified by our government, the indignation of the Directory knew no bounds. Spoliations of our commerce were committed with as little reserve as is actual war existed, and the conduct of the French government was marked by every circumstance of contumely. Jay's treaty, meanwhile, was received in America with a severity of reprehension which bespoke the decided Anti-Anglican dispositions of our people. . It must be admitted, indeed, to have involved a painful sacrifice of the rights of our country, in more than one particular. It had the effect, however, to postpone a war with England until we were better able to bear it, and,-our Union preserved,—we shall probably never again be subjected to a like humiliation. The manifestations of popular feeling induced, in the French Directory, the conceit that the government of America might be separated from its citizens. Acting upon this delusion, they took leave of Mr. Monroe, then our representative at Paris, with warm
professions of regard for the people of America, and of undisguised hostility to the administration, and refused, with studied indignity, to receive Mr. Pinckney, who had been sent out as Mr. Monroe's successor. Parties in the United States were thus situated when General Washington, at the end of his second term, resigned the reins of power to Mr. Adams, who was himself a Federalist, and chose his cabinet from those of kindred sentiments. Very soon after his accession, Mr. Adams made an effort to compose our misunderstanding with France by sending thither a solemn embassy, consisting of Mr. Charles C. Pinckney of South Carolina, Mr. Marshall of Virginia, and Mr. Gerry of Massachusetts. The joint appointment of gentlemen so distinguished ought to have evinced to France the strong desire of our government to conciliate her. They were treated, however, with an insolence inconceivable, were not admitted to an audience, and were subjected to the mortification of being approached by certain agents. of Talleyrand, the minister for public affairs, with proposals as degrading as they were direct, for a bribe. The proposition was, that £50,000 sterling should be distributed amongst certain members of the Directory, as the necessary price of entering upon the negotiation. The envoys having peremptorily refused to buy, in any way, the privilege of presenting the just demands of their country, Messrs. Pinckney and Marshall were dismissed; Mr. Gerry, who, as belonging to the Republican party, was insultingly supposed to be more pliable, being requested to remain. The envoys having communicated these transactions to their government, the correspondence was laid before Congress, and printed, the names of Talleyrand's brokers being veiled under the respective letters X. Y. Z. and W. The publication, like an electric shock, awakened all the dormant fires of patriotism in America. As one man the people stood forward prepared to vindicate the insulted honour and violated rights of their country. The President, anticipating the national spirit, in his message of 21st June, 1798, communicating the return of Mr. Marshall to the United States, peremptorily declared that he would “never send another minister to France without assurances that he would be received, respected, and honoured, as the representative of a great, free, powerful, and independent nation.” So strong was the general irritation under what was called “the X. Y. Z. excitement,” that party lines were in a degree obliterated, and the administration of Mr. Adams was, for a brief period, listed to a great height of popularity, whence, however, it was very soon precipitated into irretrievable disgrace. - | The Federalists, elated at the spring-tide of favour setting in upon the