Page images
[ocr errors]

logical consequences of "New Englander's;" for, as Jefferson said: "The idea of forming seven eastern states is, moreover, clearly to form the basis of a separation of the Union." He was right also in the expectation that the project would fail. Jefferson owed it again to his bitterest enemy that its development did not extend so far as to cause any embarrassment. Hamilton frustrated Burr's election as governor of New York, which was looked upon by both Burrites and Federalists as a condition precedent of the fusion. It was, indeed, more than questionable whether it could have been honorably accomplished, even if Burr had been elected; because there were no great differences between the Burrite and Jeffersonian wings of the Republicans. The northern Republicans were jealous of the southern, and their leaders were bent on obtaining the seats at the head of the table. Since they, as representatives of the minority, had no prospect of being invited there by the majority of their own party, they were prepared to lean on the opposite party which offered them support. If the leaders of both sides had been won over to the plan by its originators, they would perhaps have had enough influence on the masses to make the position of those Republicans led by Virginia a rather hard one in a presidential election. But the ultimate ob

1 Jeff., Works, IV., p. 542.

The assertion made later by Plumer, of New Hampshire, to which Ingersoll (Hist. Sketch of the Second War between the U. S. of America and Great Britain, II., p. 221, etc.) attaches so much weight, that Hamilton desired to attend the proposed meeting of the conspirators at Boston, is evidently entirely valueless. Even if no historical credit is to be given to the message said to have been sent to Boston, and mentioned by Hamilton's son (J. C. Hamilton, VII., p. 382) the memorial read in Albany is sufficient proof that Hamilton was opposed to the project. If, therefore, he wished to go to Boston, it could only be with the inten tion of hindering the further prosecution of the plan. It is scarcely necessary to add that the insinuation to the contrary is not warranted, because Plumer expected forgiveness for his participation in the intrigue, by accusing his accomplices.


ject of the Federalists could never be attained in this way. The motives of the Burrites were just sufficient to operate a momentary fusion, but not to found a political party that could live, and certainly not a party with such extreme tendencies as the Federalists wished. The whole matter involved not a political principle, but only a corrupt political intrigue. Its significance lies entirely in this, that it serves. as a measure by which to estimate how far, up to that time, the national feeling had been developed, and in this also, that it assumed as its basis an idea which, in the course of years, grew, through another question, to be one of terrible vitality.

The only immediate consequence of the intrigue was a still greater diminution of the political credit of the Burrites and Federalists. In New York the feuds between the Republicans still continued, and in Pennsylvania violent dissensions broke out among them. But, looked at from a national point of view, the malcontents were still only a faction, which might indeed be injurious, but not dangerous, while the Federalists, by their abandonment of sound political morals, had clipped their own wings. The preponderance of the administration party was so great that it seemed to depend entirely on their tact and moderation whether the country should at last be secured some years of internal quiet. Its foreign politics alone threatened fresh embarrassment. The character which the struggle between England and France began to assume placed the United States in a situation from which they could not easily escape uninjured. But it would have been readily possible, by a firm, rational, and practical policy, to turn the external dangers into a means of internal strength. But Jefferson was not the man for such a policy, when his antipathy to England and his sympathy for France came into play, and when economical questions constituted an essential factor in the problem to be solved.




Jay's treaty had not removed all the well-grounded grievances of the United States against England, and by degrees new ones were added to the old. The prospects of a friendly understanding were few; partly because Jefferson rode a very high horse, and would accept nothing unless he could obtain everything, and partly because England's attitude, notwithstanding occasional advances, grew more disregardful every day. Napoleon found herein a convenient pretence to assert "might before right" in a still more brutal manner, and it was not long before England and France formally emulated one another in wilful alterations in the hitherto recognized laws of neutrality. England's blockade declaration of May 16, 1806, and the order in council of Nov. 11, 1807, on the one hand, and Napoleon's Berlin decree of Nov. 21, 1806, and his Milan decree of Dec. 17, 1807, on the other, were a Scylla and Charybdis, between which the neutral seafaring nations. could not possibly sail uninjured. Neither interest nor self-respect could allow the United States quietly to acquiesce in this violence. The Federalists desired to see the knot cut in two. Their programme was to assume a bold

'See Hildreth (Hist. of the U. S.) for the history of the diplomatic manœuvres precedent to the struggle which began with the embargo and ended in the war of 1812. In Dwight's History of the Hartford Convention, many of the most important documents are given, some in full and some by extracts. The only worth of that verbose and badly-written book consists in these reprints.


front towards France, and thus induce England to adopt a more favorable policy, provided it were found impossible to make a formal treaty with the latter. Such was, doubtless, the best "political policy" that could be followed. The administration party, on the other hand, would hear nothing of war; it did not want one with France, and it feared one with England. Hence there remained only one thing for it to do: to make reprisals, or to surrender the ocean commerce of the United States until it pleased the two great European powers to conclude peace.

As early as 1806 an attempt was made, by putting obstacles in the way of the importation of British goods, to exert some influence on England. The provisions in question were to go into force in November, but in December the time was extended until the following July. The measures were not sufficient of themselves to obtain the desired object, and by this vacillation the little impression which they had made on England was still farther weakened. Jefferson and the congressional majority, therefore, soon came to the conclusion that it was necessary to take a very decided stand. They resolved, as they supposed, on making extensive reprisals, but as a matter of fact they sacrificed their maritime commerce.


On the 18th of December the president recommended/ an embargo. Congress immediately took the message under advisement with closed doors. Without taking the least time for deliberation the senate adopted a bill in harmony with the message. In the house of representatives the opposition were not allowed more time, and as the de

'Amer. State Papers, V., p. 258. Statesman's Manual, I., p. 204.

There was a touch of the ridiculous in the over-haste of the senate. John Quincy Adams exclaimed: "The president has recommended this measure on his high responsibility. I would not consider, I would not deliberate, I would act. Doubtless the president possesses further information as will justify the measure." Hildreth, Hist. of the U. S., VI., p. 37.

[ocr errors]


bates were there also carried on with closed doors, they were completely kept from the people until an accomplished fact was before it. The bill was passed with a few changes, to which the senate immediately agreed, on the 21st of December.1

The law was silently received by the population of the commercial states. Since the time of the Revolution the people had always entertained the opinion that the interruption of commercial relations was a very simple and infallible means of defense against any injustice on the part of the European powers.2 The National Intelligencer, which might be considered the semi-official organ of the administration, threatened two years before, in high sounding phrases, the resumption of this policy. The embargo could not, therefore, be a complete surprise, and the tradition concerning its wonderful power was still so prevalent in the commercial states that it was accepted with resignation. It was, however, soon otherwise. The people felt its weight, and before long began to murmur and to murmur the louder, the more apparent it became that the promised effects were not produced, and the more cogently it was demonstrated in congress that they never could be produced, by its means. The demonstration was so incontrovertible, that, after a long struggle, it could not fail to be recognized as conclusive. Jefferson and his unconditional supporters took this all the more to heart, because their opponents thrust sharp thorns into the weakest parts of their policy, which more than once had exposed the country to serious danger. Herein lies the importance of the embargo struggle for the history of the democracy and of the internal conflict of the United States. The Republicans presented on this occasion a striking example of


1 By 82 against 44 votes. Deb. of Congress, III., p. 641.


Quincy in the house of representatives, Deb. of Congress, IV., 107. See also John Adams' interesting letter to Quincy, Dec. 23, 1808. Quincy, Life of J. Quincy, p. 162.

« PreviousContinue »