Page images
PDF
EPUB

They likewise prepared instructions to the commissioner, who should be appointed to negotiate a treaty of peace with Great Britain; in which after pointing out the boundaries that it would be necessary for him to insist upon, they proceed" As the great object of the present defensive war, on the part of the allies, is to establish the independence of the United States, and as any treaty whereby this end cannot be obtained, must be only ostensible and illusory, you are therefore to make it a preliminary article to any negotiation, that Great Britain shall agree to treat with the United States as sovereign, free and independent. You shall take especial care also, that the independence of the said states be effectually assured and confirmed by the treaty or treaties of peace, according to the form and effect of the treaty of alliance with his most Christian Majesty; and you shall not agree to such treaty or treaties, unless the same be thereby assured and confirmed. Although it is of the utmost importance to the peace and commerce of the United States, that Canada and Nova Scotia should be ceded, and more particularly that their equal, common right, to the fisheries, should be guarantied to them, yet a desire of terminating the war hath induced us not to make the acquisition of these objects an ultimatum on the present occasion. You are empowered to agree to a cessation of hostilities during the negotiation, provided our ally should consent to the same, and provided it shall be stipulated that all the forces of the enemy should be immediately withdrawn from the United States. In all other matters not above mentioned, you are to govern yourself by the alliance between his most Christian Majesty and these states, by the advice of our allies, by your knowledge of our inter

ests, and by your own discretion, in which we repose the fullest confidence."

A few days after these instructions were agreed upon, Congress proceeded to the appointment of a proper person for negotiating a treaty of peace. The ballots for John Adams and Mr. Jay, were twice equal, so that no choice could be made; in the mean time a resolution prevailed that a Minister plenipotentiary be appointed to negotiate a treaty of alliance, and of amity and commerce, between the United States of America, and his Catholick Majesty." The appointment of a Minister under this resolution, relieved them from the embarrassment of fruitless balloting between the two gentlemen above mentioned, Mr. Jay was elected; and Mr. Adams was immediately appointed Minister Plenipotentiary for negotiating treaties of peace and commerce with Great Britain. Mr. Jay soon after sailed for Europe in company with the late French Minister, but previous to his sailing, Congress determined upou giving him the following instructions. "You are to use your utmost endeavours for obtaining permission for the citizens and inhabitants of these states, to lade and take on board their vessels, salt at the island of St. Tortuga; and also to cut, load and bring away, logwood and mahogany, in and from the bay of Honduras and its rivers, and to build on the shores, stores, houses and magazines, for the woodcutters and their families, in the extent ceded to his Britannick Majesty by the 17th article of the definitive treaty concluded at Paris, the 10th of February, 1763, or in as great an extent as can be obtained."

The indifference with which Congress viewed the evils of their system of paper currency, and the high

ideas they entertained, as well of the capacities, as the great faith of the people, may be seen in the resolution passed on the 1st September to limit the emission of bills of credit to two hundred millions of dollars. And this too they considered the publick faith as pledged to redeem, at the end of the war, at its nominal value, while the highest real amount which could be raised upon the same, would not exceed one fourth. This resolution was accompanied by a letter to their constituents, in which they entered at large upon the state of their finances, and endeavoured to prove by a train of sophistical reasoning, that paper money was the most beneficial medium of commerce and exchange which could be adopted-that the abilities of the people of the United States to redeem it were more than adequate, and that they were pledged to do so, not only in their representative, but in their individual capacity. We should pay an ill compliment, (say they) to the understanding and honour of every true American, were we to adduce many arguments to show the baseness or bad policy of violating our national faith, or omitting to pursue the measures necessary to preserve it. A bankrupt, fuithless republick, would be a novelty in the political world, and appear among reputable nations, like a common prostitute among chaste and respectable matrons. We are convinced that the arts and efforts of our enemies, will not be wanting to draw us into this humiliating and contemptible situation. Impelled by malice and the suggestion of chagrin and disappointment, at not being able to bend our necks to their yoke, they will endeavour to force or seduce us to commit this unpardonable sin, in order to subject us to the punishment due to it, and that we may thenceforth be a re

proach and a by-word among the nations. Apprized of these consequences, knowing the value of national character, and impressed with a due sense of the immutable laws of justice and honour, it is impossible that America should think without horrour of such an execrable deed. Determine to finish the contest as you began it, honestly and gloriously. Let it never be said, that America had no sooner become independent, than she became insolent, or that her infant glories and growing fame were obscured and tarnished by broken contracts and violated faith, in the very hour when all the nations of the earth were admiring, and almost adoring, the splendour of her rising."

This letter was manifestly addressed rather to the passions than to the understandings of the people; many of them had already seen cause to doubt the existence of that virtue which is the only solid foundation of publick faith; they could not be made to see the advantages of a theory which produced nothing but misery in its practice: if they could not depend upon each other for the credit of paper emitted by themselves, what right had they to depend upon their posterity; a publick faith broken at the very moment of its being pledged, stood but little chance of being redeemed, when the objects for which it was pledged should be accomplished. Congress never committed a more egregious errour, than in their system of finance. They saw the insufficiency of their bills of credit, and yet persisted in emitting them to still greater extent, absurdly supposing that the confidence of the people would be increased in proportion to the magnitude of their debt. Determined as they seemed to be, to regard their paper money as a

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

blessing, it was their obvious duty to have made it penal to pay or recieve it in payment under its nominal value. The publick virtue of no nation has ever been found sufficient to counteract the operations of private interest. It is the law that constitutes the morality of every nation, whether its government be republican or despotick. Four years had passed since the first emission of bills of credit; and their credit had gradually but uniformly depreciated in the ratio of their emission, until they were become but little better than waste paper. But they were now plunged so deeply into the system, that they were compelled either to give up the contest, or to increase the evil by further emissions.

On the 17th of September, they conferred the commission of Captain in the navy on Lieutenant Colonel Talbot, as a further reward for his distinguished gallantry in the capture of the Pigot schooner; and on the 24th, they resolved to present to Major Lee, a gold medal, bearing an emblematical impression of the attack on the fort and works at Powles Hook. The appointment of Mr. Jay to the foreign mission, vacated the presidential chair, which was filled on the 28th by the election of Samuel Huntington.

The convention troops of Burgoyne which had been sent to Virginia in November 1778, and which still remained prisoners, demanded so large a supply of flour for their support, that that article became extremely scarce, and Congress were compelled on the 18th of October to adopt the resolution of feeding them on Indian corn; but they at the same time directed information to be given to Sir Henry Clinton, that passports would be granted for the transmission of flour, if he chose to supply them with that article.

« PreviousContinue »