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Title: Jefferson and His Colleagues: A Chronicle of the Virginia Dynasty
Author: Johnson, Allen, 1870-1931
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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University, and Alev Akman



By Allen Johnson











     X.    THE WAR-HAWKS









The rumble of President John Adams's coach had hardly died away in
the distance on the morning of March 4,1801, when Mr. Thomas Jefferson
entered the breakfast room of Conrad's boarding house on Capitol
Hill, where he had been living in bachelor's quarters during his
Vice-Presidency. He took his usual seat at the lower end of the table
among the other boarders, declining with a smile to accept the chair
of the impulsive Mrs. Brown, who felt, in spite of her democratic
principles, that on this day of all days Mr. Jefferson should have the
place which he had obstinately refused to occupy at the head of the
table and near the fireplace. There were others besides the wife of the
Senator from Kentucky who felt that Mr. Jefferson was carrying
equality too far. But Mr. Jefferson would not take precedence over the
Congressmen who were his fellow boarders.

Conrad's was conveniently near the Capitol, on the south side of the
hill, and commanded an extensive view. The slope of the hill, which
was a wild tangle of verdure in summer, debouched into a wide plain
extending to the Potomac. Through this lowland wandered a little stream,
once known as Goose Creek but now dignified by the name of Tiber. The
banks of the stream as well as of the Potomac were fringed with native
flowering shrubs and graceful trees, in which Mr. Jefferson took great
delight. The prospect from his drawing-room windows, indeed, quite as
much as anything else, attached him to Conrad's.

As was his wont, Mr. Jefferson withdrew to his study after breakfast and
doubtless ran over the pages of a manuscript which he had been preparing
with some care for this Fourth of March. It may be guessed, too, that
here, as at Monticello, he made his usual observations-noting in his
diary the temperature, jotting down in the garden-book which he kept
for thirty years an item or two about the planting of vegetables, and
recording, as he continued to do for eight years, the earliest and
latest appearance of each comestible in the Washington market. Perhaps
he made a few notes about the "seeds of the cymbling (cucurbita
vermeosa) and squash (cucurbita melopipo)" which he purposed to send to
his friend Philip Mazzei, with directions for planting; or even wrote a
letter full of reflections upon bigotry in politics and religion to
Dr. Joseph Priestley, whom he hoped soon to have as his guest in the
President's House.

Toward noon Mr. Jefferson stepped out of the house and walked over to
the Capitol--a tall, rather loose-jointed figure, with swinging stride,
symbolizing, one is tempted to think, the angularity of the American
character. "A tall, large-boned farmer," an unfriendly English observer
called him. His complexion was that of a man constantly exposed to the
sun--sandy or freckled, contemporaries called it--but his features were
clean-cut and strong and his expression was always kindly and benignant.

Aside from salvos of artillery at the hour of twelve, the inauguration
of Mr. Jefferson as President of the United States was marked by extreme
simplicity. In the Senate chamber of the unfinished Capitol, he was met
by Aaron Burr, who had already been installed as presiding officer, and
conducted to the Vice-President's chair, while that debonair man of the
world took a seat on his right with easy grace. On Mr. Jefferson's left
sat Chief Justice John Marshall, a "tall, lax, lounging Virginian," with
black eyes peering out from his swarthy countenance. There is a dramatic
quality in this scene of the President-to-be seated between two men who
are to cause him more vexation of spirit than any others in public
life. Burr, brilliant, gifted, ambitious, and profligate; Marshall,
temperamentally and by conviction opposed to the principles which seemed
to have triumphed in the election of this radical Virginian, to whom
indeed he had a deep-seated aversion. After a short pause, Mr. Jefferson
rose and read his Inaugural Address in a tone so low that it could be
heard by only a few in the crowded chamber.

Those who expected to hear revolutionary doctrines must have been
surprised by the studied moderation of this address. There was not
a Federalist within hearing of Jefferson's voice who could not have
subscribed to all the articles in this profession of political faith.
"Equal and exact justice to all men"--"a jealous care of the right of
election by the people"--"absolute acquiescence in the decisions of
the majority"--"the supremacy of the civil over the military
authority"--"the honest payments of our debts"--"freedom of
religion"--"freedom of the press"-"freedom of person under the
protection of the habeas corpus"--what were these principles but the
bright constellation, as Jefferson said, "which has guided our steps
through an age of revolution and reformation?" John Adams himself might
have enunciated all these principles, though he would have distributed
the emphasis somewhat differently.

But what did Jefferson mean when he said, "We have called by different
names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans--we are all
Federalists." If this was true, what, pray, became of the revolution
of 1800, which Jefferson had declared "as real a revolution in the
principles of our government as that of 1776 was in its form?" Even
Jefferson's own followers shook their heads dubiously over this passage
as they read and reread it in the news-sheets. It sounded a false note
while the echoes of the campaign of 1800 were still reverberating. If
Hamilton and his followers were monarchists at heart in 1800, bent
upon overthrowing the Government, how could they and the triumphant
Republicans be brethren of the same principle in 1801? The truth of
the matter is that Jefferson was holding out an olive branch to his
political opponents. He believed, as he remarked in a private letter,
that many Federalists were sound Republicans at heart who had been
stampeded into the ranks of his opponents during the recent troubles
with France. These lost political sheep Jefferson was bent upon
restoring to the Republican fold by avoiding utterances and acts
which would offend them. "I always exclude the leaders from these
considerations," he added confidentially. In short, this Inaugural
Address was less a great state paper, marking a broad path for the
Government to follow under stalwart leadership, than an astute effort to
consolidate the victory of the Republican party.

Disappointing the address must have been to those who had expected a
declaration of specific policy. Yet the historian, wiser by the march of
events, may read between the lines. When Jefferson said that he desired
a wise and frugal government--a government "which should restrain men
from injuring one another but otherwise leave them free to regulate
their own pursuits--" and when he announced his purpose "to support the
state governments in all their rights" and to cultivate "peace with all
nations--entangling alliances with none," he was in effect formulating a
policy. But all this was in the womb of the future.

It was many weeks before Jefferson took up his abode in the President's
House. In the interval he remained in his old quarters, except for a
visit to Monticello to arrange for his removal, which indeed he was in
no haste to make, for "The Palace," as the President's House was dubbed
satirically, was not yet finished; its walls were not fully plastered,
and it still lacked the main staircase-which, it must be admitted, was a
serious defect if the new President meant to hold court. Besides, it
was inconveniently situated at the other end of the, straggling, unkempt
village. At Conrad's Jefferson could still keep in touch with those
members of Congress and those friends upon whose advice he relied in
putting "our Argosie on her Republican tack," as he was wont to
say. Here, in his drawing-room, he could talk freely with practical
politicians such as Charles Pinckney, who had carried the ticket
to success in South Carolina and who might reasonably expect to be
consulted in organizing the new Administration.

The chief posts in the President's official household, save one,
were readily filled. There were only five heads of departments to be
appointed, and of these the Attorney-General might be described as a
head without a department, since the duties of his office were few and
required only his occasional attention. As it fell out, however,
the Attorney-General whom Jefferson appointed, Levi Lincoln of
Massachusetts, practically carried on the work of all the Executive
Departments until his colleagues were duly appointed and commissioned.
For Secretary of War Jefferson chose another reliable New Englander,
Henry Dearborn of Maine. The naval portfolio went begging, perhaps
because the navy was not an imposing branch of the service, or because
the new President had announced his desire to lay up all seven frigates
in the eastern branch of the Potomac, where "they would be under
the immediate eye of the department and would require but one set of
plunderers to look after them." One conspicuous Republican after another
declined this dubious honor, and in the end Jefferson was obliged to
appoint as Secretary of the Navy Robert Smith, whose chief qualification
was his kinship to General Samuel Smith, an influential politician of

The appointment by Jefferson of James Madison as Secretary of State
occasioned no surprise, for the intimate friendship of the two
Virginians and their long and close association in politics led
everyone to expect that he would occupy an important post in the new
Administration, though in truth that friendship was based on something
deeper and finer than mere agreement in politics. "I do believe,"
exclaimed a lady who often saw both men in private life, "father never
loved son more than Mr. Jefferson loves Mr. Madison." The difference in
age, however, was not great, for Jefferson was in his fifty-eighth
year and Madison in his fiftieth. It was rather mien and character that
suggested the filial relationship. Jefferson was, or could be if he
chose, an imposing figure; his stature was six feet two and one-half
inches. Madison had the ways and habits of a little man, for he was only
five feet six. Madison was naturally timid and retiring in the presence
of other men, but he was at his best in the company of his friend
Jefferson, who valued his attainments. Indeed, the two men supplemented
each other. If Jefferson was prone to theorize, Madison was disposed
to find historical evidence to support a political doctrine. While
Jefferson generalized boldly, even rashly, Madison hesitated,
temporized, weighed the pros and cons, and came with difficulty to
a conclusion. Unhappily neither was a good judge of men. When pitted
against a Bonaparte, a Talleyrand, or a Canning, they appeared
provincial in their ways and limited in their sympathetic understanding
of statesmen of the Old World.

Next to that of Madison, Jefferson valued the friendship of Albert
Gallatin, whom he made Secretary of the Treasury by a recess
appointment, since there was some reason to fear that the Federalist
Senate would not confirm the nomination. The Federalists could never
forget that Gallatin was a Swiss by birth--an alien of supposedly
radical tendencies. The partisan press never exhibited its crass
provincialism more shamefully than when it made fun of Gallatin's
imperfect pronunciation of English. He had come to America, indeed, too
late to acquire a perfect control of a new tongue, but not too late to
become a loyal son of his adopted country. He brought to Jefferson's
group of advisers not only a thorough knowledge of public finance but
a sound judgment and a statesmanlike vision, which were often needed to
rectify the political vagaries of his chief.

The last of his Cabinet appointments made, Jefferson returned to
his country seat at Monticello for August and September, for he was
determined not to pass those two "bilious months" in Washington. "I have
not done it these forty years," he wrote to Gallatin. "Grumble who will,
I will never pass those two months on tidewater." To Monticello, indeed,
Jefferson turned whenever his duties permitted and not merely in the
sickly months of summer, for when the roads were good the journey was
rapidly and easily made by stage or chaise. There, in his garden
and farm, he found relief from the distractions of public life. "No
occupation is so delightful to me," he confessed, "as the culture of the
earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden." At Monticello,
too, he could gratify his delight in the natural sciences, for he was a
true child of the eighteenth century in his insatiable curiosity about
the physical universe and in his desire to reduce that universe to an
intelligible mechanism. He was by instinct a rationalist and a foe
to superstition in any form, whether in science or religion. His
indefatigable pen was as ready to discuss vaccination and yellow fever
with Dr. Benjamin Rush as it was to exchange views with Dr. Priestley on
the ethics of Jesus.

The diversity of Jefferson's interests is truly remarkable. Monticello
is a monument to his almost Yankee-like ingenuity. He writes to his
friend Thomas Paine to assure him that the semi-cylindrical form of roof
after the De Lorme pattern, which he proposes for his house, is entirely
practicable, for he himself had "used it at home for a dome, being 120
degrees of an oblong octagon." He was characteristically American in
his receptivity to new ideas from any source. A chance item about Eli
Whitney of New Haven arrests his attention and forthwith he writes to
Madison recommending a "Mr. Whitney at Connecticut, a mechanic of the
first order of ingenuity, who invented the cotton gin," and who has
recently invented "molds and machines for making all the pieces of his
[musket] locks so exactly equal that take one hundred locks to pieces
and mingle their parts and the hundred locks may be put together as well
by taking the first pieces which come to hand." To Robert Fulton,
then laboring to perfect his torpedoes and submarine, Jefferson wrote
encouragingly: "I have ever looked to the submarine boat as most to be
depended on for attaching them [i. e., torpedoes].... I am in hopes it
is not to be abandoned as impracticable."

It was not wholly affectation, therefore, when Jefferson wrote, "Nature
intended me for the tranquil pursuits of science, by rendering them my
supreme delight. But the enormities of the times in which I have lived,
have forced me to take a part in resisting them, and to commit myself
on the boisterous ocean of political passions." One can readily picture
this Virginia farmer-philosopher ruefully closing his study door, taking
a last look over the gardens and fields of Monticello, in the golden
days of October, and mounting Wildair, his handsome thoroughbred,
setting out on the dusty road for that little political world at
Washington, where rumor so often got the better of reason and where
gossip was so likely to destroy philosophic serenity.

Jefferson had been a widower for many years; and so, since his daughters
were married and had households of their own, he was forced to preside
over his menage at Washington without the feminine touch and tact
so much needed at this American court. Perhaps it was this unhappy
circumstance quite as much as his dislike for ceremonies and formalities
that made Jefferson do away with the weekly levees of his predecessors
and appoint only two days, the First of January and the Fourth of July,
for public receptions. On such occasions he begged Mrs. Dolly Madison
to act as hostess; and a charming and gracious figure she was, casting
a certain extenuating veil over the President's gaucheries. Jefferson
held, with his many political heresies, certain theories of social
intercourse which ran rudely counter to the prevailing etiquette of
foreign courts. Among the rules which he devised for his republican
court, the precedence due to rank was conspicuously absent, because he
held that "all persons when brought together in society are perfectly
equal, whether foreign or domestic, titled or untitled, in or out of
office." One of these rules to which the Cabinet gravely subscribed read
as follows:

"To maintain the principles of equality, or of pele mele, and prevent
the growth of precedence out of courtesy, the members of the Executive
will practise at their own houses, and recommend an adherence to the
ancient usage of the country, of gentlemen in mass giving precedence
to the ladies in mass, in passing from one apartment where they are
assembled into another."

The application of this rule on one occasion gave rise to an incident
which convulsed Washington society. President Jefferson had invited to
dinner the new British Minister Merry and his wife, the Spanish Minister
Yrujo and his wife, the French Minister Pichon and his wife, and Mr. and
Mrs. Madison. When dinner was announced, Mr. Jefferson gave his hand to
Mrs. Madison and seated her on his right, leaving the rest to straggle
in as they pleased. Merry, fresh from the Court of St. James, was aghast
and affronted; and when a few days later, at a dinner given by the
Secretary of State, he saw Mrs. Merry left without an escort, while Mr.
Madison took Mrs. Gallatin to the table, he believed that a deliberate
insult was intended. To appease this indignant Briton the President was
obliged to explain officially his rule of "pole mele"; but Mrs. Merry
was not appeased and positively refused to appear at the President's New
Year's Day reception. "Since then," wrote the amused Pichon, "Washington
society is turned upside down; all the women are to the last degree
exasperated against Mrs. Merry; the Federalist newspapers have taken
up the matter, and increased the irritations by sarcasms on the
administration and by making a burlesque of the facts." Then Merry
refused an invitation to dine again at the President's, saying that he
awaited instructions from his Government; and the Marquis Yrujo, who had
reasons of his own for fomenting trouble, struck an alliance with the
Merrys and also declined the President's invitation. Jefferson was
incensed at their conduct, but put the blame upon Mrs. Merry, whom
he characterized privately as a "virago who has already disturbed our
harmony extremely."

A brilliant English essayist has observed that a government to secure
obedience must first excite reverence. Some such perception, coinciding
with native taste, had moved George Washington to assume the trappings
of royalty, in order to surround the new presidential office with
impressive dignity. Posterity has, accordingly, visualized the first
President and Father of his Country as a statuesque figure, posing at
formal levees with a long sword in a scabbard of white polished leather,
and clothed in black velvet knee-breeches, with yellow gloves and a
cocked hat. The third President of the United States harbored no such
illusions and affected no such poses. Governments were made by rational
beings--"by the consent of the governed," he had written in a memorable
document--and rested on no emotional basis. Thomas Jefferson remained
Thomas Jefferson after his election to the chief magistracy; and so
contemporaries saw him in the President's House, an unimpressive figure
clad in "a blue coat, a thick gray-colored hairy waistcoat, with a red
underwaist lapped over it, green velveteen breeches, with pearl buttons,
yarn stockings, and slippers down at the heels." Anyone might have found
him, as Senator Maclay did, sitting "in a lounging manner, on one hip
commonly, and with one of his shoulders elevated much above the other,"
a loose, shackling figure with no pretense at dignity.

In his dislike for all artificial distinctions between man and man,
Jefferson determined from the outset to dispense a true Southern
hospitality at the President's House and to welcome any one at any
hour on any day. There was therefore some point to John Quincy Adams's
witticism that Jefferson's "whole eight years was a levee." No one could
deny that he entertained handsomely. Even his political opponents rose
from his table with a comfortable feeling of satiety which made them
more kindly in their attitude toward their host. "We sat down at the
table at four," wrote Senator Plumer of New Hampshire, "rose at six,
and walked immediately into another room and drank coffee. We had a very
good dinner, with a profusion of fruits and sweetmeats. The wine was
the best I ever drank, particularly the champagne, which was indeed

It was in the circle of his intimates that Jefferson appeared at his
best, and of all his intimate friends Madison knew best how to evoke the
true Jefferson. To outsiders Madison appeared rather taciturn, but among
his friends he was genial and even lively, amusing all by his ready
humor and flashes of wit. To his changes of mood Jefferson always
responded. Once started Jefferson would talk on and on, in a loose
and rambling fashion, with a great deal of exaggeration and with many
vagaries, yet always scattering much information on a great variety of
topics. Here we may leave him for the moment, in the exhilarating
hours following his inauguration, discoursing with Pinckney, Gallatin,
Madison, Burr, Randolph, Giles, Macon, and many another good Republican,
and evolving the policies of his Administration.


President Jefferson took office in a spirit of exultation which he made
no effort to disguise in his private letters. "The tough sides of our
Argosie," he wrote to John Dickinson, "have been thoroughly tried. Her
strength has stood the waves into which she was steered with a view to
sink her. We shall put her on her Republican tack, and she will now show
by the beauty of her motion the skill of her builders." In him as in
his two intimates, Gallatin and Madison, there was a touch of that
philosophy which colored the thought of reformers on the eve of the
French Revolution, a naive confidence in the perfectability of man
and the essential worthiness of his aspirations. Strike from man
the shackles of despotism and superstition and accord to him a free
government, and he would rise to unsuspected felicity. Republican
government was the strongest government on earth, because it was founded
on free will and imposed the fewest checks on the legitimate desires of
men. Only one thing was wanting to make the American people happy and
prosperous, said the President in his Inaugural Address "a wise and
frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another,
which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of
industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the
bread it has earned." This, he believed, was the sum of good government;
and this was the government which he was determined to establish.
Whether government thus reduced to lowest terms would prove adequate in
a world rent by war, only the future could disclose.

It was only in intimate letters and in converse with Gallatin and
Madison that Jefferson revealed his real purposes. So completely did
Jefferson take these two advisers into his confidence, and so loyal
was their cooperation, that the Government for eight years has been
described as a triumvirate almost as clearly defined as any triumvirate
of Rome. Three more congenial souls certainly have never ruled a nation,
for they were drawn together not merely by agreement on a common policy
but by sympathetic understanding of the fundamental principles of
government. Gallatin and Madison often frequented the President's House,
and there one may see them in imagination and perhaps catch now and then
a fragment of their conversation:

Gallatin: We owe much to geographical position; we have been fortunate
in escaping foreign wars. If we can maintain peaceful relations with
other nations, we can keep down the cost of administration and avoid all
the ills which follow too much government.

The President: After all, we are chiefly an agricultural people and if
we shape our policy accordingly we shall be much more likely to multiply
and be happy than as if we mimicked an Amsterdam, a Hamburg, or a city
like London.

Madison (quietly): I quite agree with you. We must keep the government
simple and republican, avoiding the corruption which inevitably prevails
in crowded cities.

Gallatin (pursuing his thought): The moment you allow the national debt
to mount, you entail burdens on posterity and augment the operations of

The President (bitterly): The principle of spending money to be paid
by posterity is but swindling futurity on a large scale. That was what

Gallatin: Just so; and if this administration does not reduce taxes,
they will never be reduced. We must strike at the root of the evil and
avert the danger of multiplying the functions of government. I
would repeal all internal taxes. These pretended tax-preparations,
treasure-preparations, and army-preparations against contingent wars
tend only to encourage wars.

The President (nodding his head in agreement): The discharge of the debt
is vital to the destinies of our government, and for the present we
must make all objects subordinate to this. We must confine our general
government to foreign concerns only and let our affairs be disentangled
from those of all other nations, except as to commerce. And our commerce
is so valuable to other nations that they will be glad to purchase it,
when they know that all we ask is justice. Why, then, should we not
reduce our general government to a very simple organization and a very
unexpensive one--a few plain duties to be performed by a few servants?

It was precisely the matter of selecting these few servants which
worried the President during his first months in office, for the federal
offices were held by Federalists almost to a man. He hoped that he would
have to make only a few removals any other course would expose him to
the charge of inconsistency after his complacent statement that there
was no fundamental difference between Republicans and Federalists. But
his followers thought otherwise; they wanted the spoils of victory and
they meant to have them. Slowly and reluctantly Jefferson yielded to
pressure, justifying himself as he did so by the reflection that a due
participation in office was a matter of right. And how, pray, could
due participation be obtained, if there were no removals? Deaths
were regrettably few; and resignations could hardly be expected. Once
removals were decided upon, Jefferson drifted helplessly upon the tide.
For a moment, it is true, he wrote hopefully about establishing an
equilibrium and then returning "with joy to that state of things when
the only questions concerning a candidate shall be: Is he honest? Is he
capable? Is he faithful to the Constitution?" That blessed expectation
was never realized. By the end of his second term, a Federalist in
office was as rare as a Republican under Adams.

The removal of the Collector of the Port at New Haven and the
appointment of an octogenarian whose chief qualification was his
Republicanism brought to a head all the bitter animosity of Federalist
New England. The hostility to Jefferson in this region was no ordinary
political opposition, as he knew full well, for it was compounded of
many ingredients. In New England there was a greater social solidarity
than existed anywhere else in the Union. Descended from English stock,
imbued with common religious and political traditions, and bound
together by the ties of a common ecclesiastical polity, the people of
this section had, as Jefferson expressed it, "a sort of family pride."
Here all the forces of education, property, religion, and respectability
were united in the maintenance of the established order against the
assaults of democracy. New England Federalism was not so much a body
of political doctrine as a state of mind. Abhorrence of the forces
liberated by the French Revolution was the dominating emotion. To the
Federalist leaders democracy seemed an aberration of the human mind,
which was bound everywhere to produce infidelity, looseness of morals,
and political chaos. In the words of their Jeremiah, Fisher Ames,
"Democracy is a troubled spirit, fated never to rest, and whose dreams,
if it sleeps, present only visions of hell." So thinking and feeling,
they had witnessed the triumph of Jefferson with genuine alarm, for
Jefferson they held to be no better than a Jacobin, bent upon subverting
the social order and saturated with all the heterodox notions of
Voltaire and Thomas Paine.

The appointment of the aged Samuel Bishop as Collector of New Haven was
evidence enough to the Federalist mind, which fed upon suspicion, that
Jefferson intended to reward his son, Abraham Bishop, for political
services. The younger Bishop was a stench in their nostrils, for at a
recent celebration of the Republican victory he had shocked the good
people of Connecticut by characterizing Jefferson as "the illustrious
chief who, once insulted, now presides over the Union," and comparing
him with the Saviour of the world, "who, once insulted, now presides
over the universe." And this had not been his first transgression: he
was known as an active and intemperate rebel against the standing order.
No wonder that Theodore Dwight voiced the alarm of all New England
Federalists in an oration at New Haven, in which he declared that
according to the doctrines of Jacobinism "the greatest villain in the
community is the fittest person to make and execute the laws." "We have
now," said he, "reached the consummation of democratic blessedness.
We have a country governed by blockheads and knaves." Here was an
opposition which, if persisted in, might menace the integrity of the

Scarcely less vexatious was the business of appointments in New York
where three factions in the Republican party struggled for the control
of the patronage. Which should the President support? Gallatin, whose
father-in-law was prominent in the politics of the State, was inclined
to favor Burr and his followers; but the President already felt a deep
distrust of Burr and finally surrendered to the importunities of DeWitt
Clinton, who had formed an alliance with the Livingston interests to
drive Burr from the party. Despite the pettiness of the game, which
disgusted both Gallatin and Jefferson, the decision was fateful. It was
no light matter, even for the chief magistrate, to offend Aaron Burr.

From these worrisome details of administration, the President turned
with relief to the preparation of his first address to Congress. The
keynote was to be economy. But just how economies were actually to be
effected was not so clear. For months Gallatin had been toiling over
masses of statistics, trying to reconcile a policy of reduced taxation,
to satisfy the demands of the party, with the discharge of the public
debt. By laborious calculation he found that if $7,300,000 were set
aside each year, the debt--principal and interest--could be discharged
within sixteen years. But if the unpopular excise were abandoned, where
was the needed revenue to be found? New taxes were not to be thought of.
The alternative, then, was to reduce expenditures. But how and where?

Under these circumstances the President and his Cabinet adopted the
course which in the light of subsequent events seems to have been
woefully ill-timed and hazardous in the extreme. They determined to
sacrifice the army and navy. In extenuation of this decision, it may
be said that the danger of war with France, which had forced the Adams
Administration to double expenditures, had passed; and that Europe was
at this moment at peace, though only the most sanguine and shortsighted
could believe that continued peace was possible in Europe with the First
Consul in the saddle. It was agreed, then, that the expenditures for
the military and naval establishments should be kept at about
$2,500,000--somewhat below the normal appropriation before the recent
war-flurry; and that wherever possible expenses should be reduced by
careful pruning of the list of employees at the navy yards. Such was
the programme of humdrum economy which President Jefferson laid before
Congress. After the exciting campaign of 1800, when the public was
assured that the forces of Darkness and Light were locked in deadly
combat for the soul of the nation, this tame programme seemed like an
anticlimax. But those who knew Thomas Jefferson learned to discount the
vagaries to which he gave expression in conversation. As John Quincy
Adams once remarked after listening to Jefferson's brilliant table
talk, "Mr. Jefferson loves to excite wonder." Yet Thomas Jefferson,
philosopher, was a very different person from Thomas Jefferson,
practical politician. Paradoxical as it may seem, the new President,
of all men of his day, was the least likely to undertake revolutionary
policies; and it was just this acquaintance with Jefferson's mental
habits which led his inveterate enemy, Alexander Hamilton, to advise his
party associates to elect Jefferson rather than Burr.

The President broke with precedent, however, in one small particular. He
was resolved not to follow the practice of his Federalist predecessors
and address Congress in person. The President's speech to the two houses
in joint session savored too much of a speech from the throne; it was a
symptom of the Federalist leaning to monarchical forms and practices. He
sent his address, therefore, in writing, accompanied with letters to
the presiding officers of the two chambers, in which he justified this
departure from custom on the ground of convenience and economy of time.
"I have had principal regard," he wrote, "to the convenience of the
Legislature, to the economy of their time, to the relief from the
embarrassment of immediate answers on subjects not yet fully before
them, and to the benefits thence resulting to the public affairs." This
explanation deceived no one, unless it was the writer himself. It was
thoroughly characteristic of Thomas Jefferson that he often explained
his conduct by reasons which were obvious afterthoughts--an unfortunate
habit which has led his contemporaries and his unfriendly biographers to
charge him with hypocrisy. And it must be admitted that his preference
for indirect methods of achieving a purpose exposed him justly to the
reproaches of those who liked frankness and plain dealing. It is not
unfair, then, to wonder whether the President was not thinking rather
of his own convenience when he elected to address Congress by written
message, for he was not a ready nor an impressive speaker. At all
events, he established a precedent which remained unbroken until another
Democratic President, one hundred and twelve years later, returned to
the practice of Washington and Adams.

If the Federalists of New England are to be believed, hypocrisy marked
the presidential message from the very beginning to the end. It began
with a pious expression of thanks "to the beneficent Being" who had
been pleased to breathe into the warring peoples of Europe a spirit of
forgiveness and conciliation. But even the most bigoted Federalist who
could not tolerate religious views differing from his own must have
been impressed with the devout and sincere desire of the President to
preserve peace. Peace! peace! It was a sentiment which ran through the
message like the watermark in the very paper on which he wrote; it was
the condition, the absolutely indispensable condition, of every chaste
reformation which he advocated. Every reduction of public expenditure
was predicated on the supposition that the danger of war was remote
because other nations would desire to treat the United States justly.
"Salutary reductions in habitual expenditures" were urged in every
branch of the public service from the diplomatic and revenue services
to the judiciary and the naval yards. War might come, indeed, but
"sound principles would not justify our taxing the industry of our
fellow-citizens to accumulate treasure for wars to happen we know not
when, and which might not, perhaps, happen but from the temptations
offered by that treasure."

On all concrete matters the President's message cut close to the
line which Gallatin had marked out. The internal taxes should now be
dispensed with and corresponding reductions be made in "our habitual
expenditures." There had been unwise multiplication of federal offices,
many of which added nothing to the efficiency of the Government but only
to the cost. These useless offices should be lopped off, for "when we
consider that this Government is charged with the external and mutual
relations only of these States,... we may well doubt whether our
organization is not too complicated, too expensive." In this connection
Congress might well consider the Federal Judiciary, particularly the
courts newly erected, and "judge of the proportion which the institution
bears to the business it has to perform." * And finally, Congress should
consider whether the law relating to naturalization should not be
revised. "A denial of citizenship under a residence of fourteen years
is a denial to a great proportion of those who ask it"; and "shall we
refuse to the unhappy fugitives from distress that hospitality which
savages of the wilderness extended to our fathers arriving in this

     * The studied moderation of the message gave no hint of
     Jefferson's resolute purpose to procure the repeal of the
     Judiciary Act of 1801. The history of this act and its
     repeal, as well as of the attack upon the judiciary, is
     recounted by Edward S. Corwin in "John Marshall and the
     Constitution" in "The Chronicles of America."

The most inveterate foe could not characterize this message as
revolutionary, however much he might dissent from the policies
advocated. It was not Jefferson's way, indeed, to announce his
intentions boldly and hew his way relentlessly to his objective. He
was far too astute as a party leader to attempt to force his will upon
Republicans in Congress. He would suggest; he would advise; he would
cautiously express an opinion; but he would never dictate. Yet few
Presidents have exercised a stronger directive influence upon Congress
than Thomas Jefferson during the greater part of his Administration. So
long as he was en rapport with Nathaniel Macon, Speaker of the House,
and with John Randolph, Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means,
he could direct the policies of his party as effectively as the most
autocratic dictator. When he had made up his mind that Justice Samuel
Chase of the Supreme Court should be impeached, he simply penned a note
to Joseph Nicholson, who was then managing the impeachment of Judge
Pickering, raising the question whether Chase's attack on the principles
of the Constitution should go unpunished. "I ask these questions for
your consideration," said the President deferentially; "for myself,
it is better that I should not interfere." And eventually impeachment
proceedings were instituted.

In this memorable first message, the President alluded to a little
incident which had occurred in the Mediterranean, "the only exception to
this state of general peace with which we have been blessed." Tripoli,
one of the Barbary States, had begun depredations upon American commerce
and the President had sent a small squadron for protection. A ship of
this squadron, the schooner Enterprise, had fallen in with a Tripolitan
man-of-war and after a fight lasting three hours had forced the corsair
to strike her colors. But since war had not been declared and the
President's orders were to act only on the defensive, the crew of
the Enterprise dismantled the captured vessel and let her go. Would
Congress, asked the President, take under consideration the advisability
of placing our forces on an equality with those of our adversaries?
Neither the President nor his Secretary of the Treasury seems to have
been aware that this single cloud on the horizon portended a storm of
long duration. Yet within a year it became necessary to delay further
reductions in the naval establishment and to impose new taxes to meet
the very contingency which the peace-loving President declared most
remote. Moreover, the very frigates which he had proposed to lay up
in the eastern branch of the Potomac were manned and dispatched to the
Mediterranean to bring the Corsairs to terms.


Shortly after Jefferson's inauguration a visitor presented himself at
the Executive Mansion with disquieting news from the Mediterranean.
Captain William Bainbridge of the frigate George Washington had just
returned from a disagreeable mission. He had been commissioned to carry
to the Dey of Algiers the annual tribute which the United States had
contracted to pay. It appeared that while the frigate lay at anchor
under the shore batteries off Algiers, the Dey attempted to
requisition her to carry his ambassador and some Turkish passengers to
Constantinople. Bainbridge, who felt justly humiliated by his
mission, wrathfully refused. An American frigate do errands for this
insignificant pirate? He thought not! The Dey pointed to his batteries,
however, and remarked, "You pay me tribute, by which you become my
slaves; I have, therefore, a right to order you as I may think proper."
The logic of the situation was undeniably on the side of the master of
the shore batteries. Rather than have his ship blown to bits, Bainbridge
swallowed his wrath and submitted. On the eve of departure, he had
to submit to another indignity. The colors of Algiers must fly at
the masthead. Again Bainbridge remonstrated and again the Dey looked
casually at his guns trained on the frigate. So off the frigate sailed
with the Dey's flag fluttering from her masthead, and her captain
cursing lustily.

The voyage of fifty-nine days to Constantinople, as Bainbridge recounted
it to the President, was not without its amusing incidents. Bainbridge
regaled the President with accounts of his Mohammedan passengers, who
found much difficulty in keeping their faces to the east while the
frigate went about on a new tack. One of the faithful was delegated
finally to watch the compass so that the rest might continue their
prayers undisturbed. And at Constantinople Bainbridge had curious
experiences with the Moslems. He announced his arrival as from the
United States of America he had hauled down the Dey's flag as soon as
he was out of reach of the batteries. The port officials were greatly
puzzled. What, pray, were the United States? Bainbridge explained that
they were part of the New World which Columbus had discovered. The Grand
Seigneur then showed great interest in the stars of the American flag,
remarking that, as his own was decorated with one of the heavenly
bodies, the coincidence must be a good omen of the future friendly
intercourse of the two nations. Bainbridge did his best to turn his
unpalatable mission to good account, but he returned home in bitter
humiliation. He begged that he might never again be sent to Algiers with
tribute unless he was authorized to deliver it from the cannon's mouth.

The President listened sympathetically to Bainbridge's story, for he
was not unfamiliar with the ways of the Barbary Corsairs and he had long
been of the opinion that tribute only made these pirates bolder and more
insufferable. The Congress of the Confederation, however, had followed
the policy of the European powers and had paid tribute to secure
immunity from attack, and the new Government had simply continued the
policy of the old. In spite of his abhorrence of war, Jefferson held
that coercion in this instance was on the whole cheaper and more
efficacious. Not long after this interview with Bainbridge, President
Jefferson was warned that the Pasha of Tripoli was worrying the American
Consul with importunate demands for more tribute. This African potentate
had discovered that his brother, the Dey of Algiers, had made a better
bargain with the United States. He announced, therefore, that he must
have a new treaty with more tribute or he would declare war. Fearing
trouble from this quarter, the President dispatched a squadron of four
vessels under Commodore Richard Dale to cruise in the Mediterranean,
with orders to protect American commerce. It was the schooner Enterprise
of this squadron which overpowered the Tripolitan cruiser, as Jefferson
recounted in his message to Congress.

The former Pasha of Tripoli had been blessed with three sons, Hasan,
Hamet, and Yusuf. Between these royal brothers, however, there seems
to have been some incompatibility of temperament, for when their father
died (Blessed be Allah!) Yusuf, the youngest, had killed Hasan and had
spared Hamet only because he could not lay hands upon him. Yusuf then
proclaimed himself Pasha. It was Yusuf, the Pasha with this bloody
record, who declared war on the United States, May 10,1801, by cutting
down the flagstaff of the American consulate.

To apply the term war to the naval operations which followed is,
however, to lend specious importance to very trivial events. Commodore
Dale made the most of his little squadron, it is true, convoying
merchantmen through the straits and along the Barbary coast, holding
Tripolitan vessels laden with grain in hopeless inactivity off
Gibraltar, and blockading the port of Tripoli, now with one frigate and
now with another. When the terms of enlistment of Dale's crews expired,
another squadron was gradually assembled in the Mediterranean, under the
command of Captain Richard V. Morris, for Congress had now authorized
the use of the navy for offensive operations, and the Secretary of
the Treasury, with many misgivings, had begun to accumulate his
Mediterranean Fund to meet contingent expenses.

The blockade of Tripoli seems to have been carelessly conducted
by Morris and was finally abandoned. There were undeniably great
difficulties in the way of an effective blockade. The coast afforded few
good harbors; the heavy northerly winds made navigation both difficult
and hazardous; the Tripolitan galleys and gunboats with their shallow
draft could stand close in shore and elude the American frigates; and
the ordnance on the American craft was not heavy enough to inflict any
serious damage on the fortifications guarding the harbor. Probably these
difficulties were not appreciated by the authorities at Washington; at
all events, in the spring of 1803 Morris was suspended from his command
and subsequently lost his commission.

In the squadron of which Commodore Preble now took command was the
Philadelphia, a frigate of thirty-six guns, to which Captain Bainbridge,
eager to square accounts with the Corsairs, had been assigned. Late in
October Bainbridge sighted a Tripolitan vessel standing in shore. He
gave chase at once with perhaps more zeal than discretion, following his
quarry well in shore in the hope of disabling her before she could make
the harbor. Failing to intercept the corsair, he went about and was
heading out to sea when the frigate ran on an uncharted reef and stuck
fast. A worse predicament could scarcely be imagined. Every device known
to Yankee seamen was employed to free the unlucky vessel. "The sails
were promptly laid a-back," Bainbridge reported, "and the forward guns
run aft, in hopes of backing her off, which not producing the desired
effect, orders were given to stave the water in her hold and pump it
out, throw overboard the lumber and heavy articles of every kind, cut
away the anchors... and throw over all the guns, except a few for our
defence.... As a last resource the foremast and main-topgallant mast
were cut away, but without any beneficial effect, and the ship remained
a perfect wreck, exposed to the constant fire of the gunboats, which
could not be returned."

The officers advised Bainbridge that the situation was becoming
intolerable and justified desperate measures. They had been raked by
a galling fire for more than four hours; they had tried every means of
floating the ship; humiliating as the alternative was, they saw no
other course than to strike the colors. All agreed, therefore, that
they should flood the magazine, scuttle the ship, and surrender to the
Tripolitan small craft which hovered around the doomed frigate like so
many vultures.

For the second time off this accursed coast Bainbridge hauled down his
colors. The crews of the Tripolitan gunboats swarmed aboard and set
about plundering right and left. Swords, epaulets, watches, money,
and clothing were stripped from the officers; and if the crew in the
forecastle suffered less it was because they had less to lose. Officers
and men were then tumbled into boats and taken ashore, half-naked and
humiliated beyond words. Escorted by the exultant rabble, these three
hundred luckless Americans were marched to the castle, where the
Pasha sat in state. His Highness was in excellent humor. Three hundred
Americans! He counted them, each worth hundreds of dollars. Allah was

A long, weary bondage awaited the captives. The common seamen
were treated like galley slaves, but the officers were given some
consideration through the intercession of the Danish consul. Bainbridge
was even allowed to correspond with Commodore Preble, and by means of
invisible ink he transmitted many important messages which escaped the
watchful eyes of his captors. Depressed by his misfortune--for no one
then or afterwards held him responsible for the disaster--Bainbridge had
only one thought, and that was revenge. Day and night he brooded over
plans of escape and retribution.

As though to make the captive Americans drink the dregs of humiliation,
the Philadelphia was floated off the reef in a heavy sea and towed
safely into the harbor. The scuttling of the vessel had been hastily
contrived, and the jubilant Tripolitans succeeded in stopping her seams
before she could fill. A frigate like the Philadelphia was a prize the
like of which had never been seen in the Pasha's reign. He rubbed his
hands in glee and taunted her crew.

The sight of the frigate riding peacefully at anchor in the harbor was
torture to poor Bainbridge. In feverish letters he implored Preble to
bombard the town, to sink the gunboats in the harbor, to recapture
the frigate or to burn her at her moorings--anything to take away the
bitterness of humiliation. The latter alternative, indeed, Preble had
been revolving in his own mind.

Toward midnight of February 16, 1804, Bainbridge and his companions were
aroused by the guns of the fort. They sprang to the window and witnessed
the spectacle for which the unhappy captain had prayed long and
devoutly. The Philadelphia was in flames--red, devouring flames, pouring
out of her hold, climbing the rigging, licking her topmasts, forming
fantastic columns--devastating, unconquerable flames--the frigate was
doomed, doomed! And every now and then one of her guns would explode as
though booming out her requiem. Bainbridge was avenged.

How had it all happened? The inception of this daring feat must be
credited to Commodore Preble; the execution fell to young Stephen
Decatur, lieutenant in command of the sloop Enterprise. The plan
was this: to use the Intrepid, a captured Tripolitan ketch, as
the instrument of destruction, equipping her with combustibles and
ammunition, and if possible to burn the Philadelphia and other ships
in the harbor while raking the Pasha's castle with the frigate's
eighteen-pounders. When Decatur mustered his crew on the deck of the
Enterprise and called for volunteers for this exploit, every man jack
stepped forward. Not a man but was spoiling for excitement after months
of tedious inactivity; not an American who did not covet a chance to
avenge the loss of the Philadelphia. But all could not be used, and
Decatur finally selected five officers and sixty-two men. On the night
of the 3rd of February, the Intrepid set sail from Syracuse, accompanied
by the brig Siren, which was to support the boarding party with her
boats and cover their retreat.

Two weeks later, the Intrepid, barely distinguishable in the light of
a new moon, drifted into the harbor of Tripoli. In the distance lay the
unfortunate Philadelphia. The little ketch was now within range of the
batteries, but she drifted on unmolested until within a hundred yards
of the frigate. Then a hail came across the quiet bay. The pilot replied
that he had lost his anchors and asked permission to make fast to the
frigate for the night. The Tripolitan lookout grumbled assent. Ropes
were then thrown out and the vessels were drawing together, when the cry
"Americanas!" went up from the deck of the frigate. In a trice Decatur
and his men had scrambled aboard and overpowered the crew.

It was a crucial moment. If Decatur's instructions had not been
imperative, he would have thrown prudence to the winds and have tried to
cut out the frigate and make off in her. There were those, indeed, who
believed that he might have succeeded. But the Commodore's orders were
to destroy the frigate. There was no alternative. Combustibles were
brought on board, the match applied, and in a few moments the frigate
was ablaze. Decatur and his men had barely time to regain the Intrepid
and to cut her fasts. The whole affair had not taken more than twenty
minutes, and no one was killed or even seriously wounded.

Pulling lustily at their sweeps, the crew of the Intrepid moved her
slowly out of the harbor, in the light of the burning vessel. The guns
of the fort were manned at last and were raining shot and shell wildly
over the harbor. The jack-tars on the Intrepid seemed oblivious to
danger, "commenting upon the beauty of the spray thrown up by the shot
between us and the brilliant light of the ship, rather than calculating
any danger," wrote Midshipman Morris. Then the starboard guns of the
Philadelphia, as though instinct with purpose, began to send hot shot
into the town. The crew yelled with delight and gave three cheers for
the redoubtable old frigate. It was her last action, God bless her! Her
cables soon burned, however, and she drifted ashore, there to blow up in
one last supreme effort to avenge herself. At the entrance of the harbor
the Intrepid found the boats of the Siren, and three days later both
rejoined the squadron.

Thrilling as Decatur's feat was, it brought peace no nearer. The Pasha,
infuriated by the loss of the Philadelphia, was more exorbitant
than ever in his demands. There was nothing for it but to scour the
Mediterranean for Tripolitan ships, maintain the blockade so far as
weather permitted, and await the opportunity to reduce the city of
Tripoli by bombardment. But Tripoli was a hard nut to crack. On the
ocean side it was protected by forts and batteries and the harbor was
guarded by a long line of reefs. Through the openings in this natural
breakwater, the light-draft native craft could pass in and out to harass
the blockading fleet.

It was Commodore Preble's plan to make a carefully concerted attack upon
this stronghold as soon as summer weather conditions permitted. For this
purpose he had strengthened his squadron at Syracuse by purchasing a
number of flat-bottomed gunboats with which he hoped to engage the enemy
in the shallow waters about Tripoli while his larger vessels shelled the
town and batteries. He arrived off the African coast about the middle of
July but encountered adverse weather, so that for several weeks he could
accomplish nothing of consequence. Finally, on the 3rd of August, a
memorable date in the annals of the American navy, he gave the signal
for action.

The new gunboats were deployed in two divisions, one commanded by
Decatur, and fully met expectations by capturing two enemy ships in most
sanguinary, hand-to-hand fighting. Meantime the main squadron drew close
in shore, so close, it is said, that the gunners of shore batteries
could not depress their pieces sufficiently to score hits. All these
preliminaries were watched with bated breath by the officers of the old
Philadelphia from behind their prison bars.

The Pasha had viewed the approach of the American fleet with utter
disdain. He promised the spectators who lined the terraces that they
would witness some rare sport; they should see his gunboats put the
enemy to flight. But as the American gunners began to get the range and
pour shot into the town, and the Constitution with her heavy ordnance
passed and repassed, delivering broadsides within three cables'
length of the batteries, the Pasha's nerves were shattered and he fled
precipitately to his bomb-proof shelter. No doubt the damage inflicted
by this bombardment was very considerable, but Tripoli still defied
the enemy. Four times within the next four weeks Preble repeated these
assaults, pausing after each bombardment to ascertain what terms the
Pasha had to offer; but the wily Yusuf was obdurate, knowing well enough
that, if he waited, the gods of wind and storm would come to his aid and
disperse the enemy's fleet.

It was after the fifth ineffectual assault that Preble determined on a
desperate stroke. He resolved to fit out a fireship and to send her into
the very jaws of death, hoping to destroy the Tripolitan gunboats and
at the same time to damage the castle and the town. He chose for this
perilous enterprise the old Intrepid which had served her captors so
well, and out of many volunteers he gave the command to Captain Richard
Somers and Lieutenant Henry Wadsworth. The little ketch was loaded with
a hundred barrels of gunpowder and a large quantity of combustibles and
made ready for a quick run by the batteries into the harbor. Certain
death it seemed to sail this engine of destruction past the outlying
reefs into the midst of the Tripolitan gunboats; but every precaution
was taken to provide for the escape of the crew. Two rowboats were taken
along and in these frail craft, they believed, they could embark, when
once the torch had been applied, and in the ensuing confusion return to
the squadron.

Somers selected his crew of ten men with care, and at the last moment
consented to let Lieutenant Joseph Israel join the perilous expedition.
On the night of the 4th of September, the Intrepid sailed off in the
darkness toward the mouth of the harbor. Anxious eyes followed the
little vessel, trying to pierce the blackness that soon enveloped her.
As she neared the harbor the shore batteries opened fire; and suddenly
a blinding flash and a terrific explosion told the fate which overtook
her. Fragments of wreckage rose high in the air, the fearful concussion
was felt by every boat in the squadron, and then darkness and awful
silence enfolded the dead and the dying. Two days later the bodies of
the heroic thirteen, mangled beyond recognition, were cast up by the
sea. Even Captain Bainbridge, gazing sorrowfully upon his dead comrades
could not recognize their features. Just what caused the explosion will
never be known. Preble always believed that Tripolitans had attempted
to board the Intrepid and that Somers had deliberately fired the powder
magazine rather than surrender. Be that as it may, no one doubts that
the crew were prepared to follow their commander to self-destruction if
necessary. In deep gloom, the squadron returned to Syracuse, leaving
a few vessels to maintain a fitful blockade off the hated and menacing

Far away from the sound of Commodore Preble's guns a strange, almost
farcical, intervention in the Tripolitan War was preparing. The scene
shifts to the desert on the east, where William Eaton, consul at Tunis,
becomes the center of interest. Since the very beginning of the war,
this energetic and enterprising Connecticut Yankee had taken a lively
interest in the fortunes of Hamet Karamanli, the legitimate heir to the
throne, who had been driven into exile by Yusuf the pretender. Eaton
loved intrigue as Preble gloried in war. Why not assist Hamet to recover
his throne? Why not, in frontier parlance, start a back-fire that would
make Tripoli too hot for Yusuf? He laid his plans before his superiors
at Washington, who, while not altogether convinced of his competence to
play the king-maker, were persuaded to make him navy agent, subject
to the orders of the commander of the American squadron in the
Mediterranean. Commodore Samuel Barron, who succeeded Preble, was
instructed to avail himself of the cooperation of the ex-Pasha of
Tripoli if he deemed it prudent. In the fall of 1804 Barron dispatched
Eaton in the Argus, Captain Isaac Hull commander, to Alexandria to find
Hamet and to assure him of the cooperation of the American squadron in
the reconquest of his kingdom. Eaton entered thus upon the coveted role:
twenty centuries looked down upon him as they had upon Napoleon.

A mere outline of what followed reads like the scenario of an opera
bouffe. Eaton ransacked Alexandria in search, of Hamet the unfortunate
but failed to find the truant. Then acting on a rumor that Hamet had
departed up the Nile to join the Mamelukes, who were enjoying one of
their seasonal rebellions against constituted authority, Eaton plunged
into the desert and finally brought back the astonished and somewhat
reluctant heir to the throne. With prodigious energy Eaton then
organized an expedition which was to march overland toward Derne, meet
the squadron at the Bay of Bomba, and descend vi et armis upon the
unsuspecting pretender at Tripoli. He even made a covenant with Hamet
promising with altogether unwarranted explicitness that the United
States would use "their utmost exertions" to reestablish him in his
sovereignty. Eaton was to be "general and commander-in-chief of the land
forces." This aggressive Yankee alarmed Hamet, who clearly did not want
his sovereignty badly enough to fight for it.

The international army which the American generalissimo mustered was
a motley array: twenty-five cannoneers of uncertain nationality,
thirty-eight Greeks, Hamet and his ninety followers, and a party of
Arabian horsemen and camel-drivers--all told about four hundred men. The
story of their march across the desert is a modern Anabasis. When the
Arabs were not quarreling among themselves and plundering the rest of
the caravan, they were demanding more pay. Rebuffed they would disappear
with their camels into the fastnesses of the desert, only to reappear
unexpectedly with new importunities. Between Hamet, who was in constant
terror of his life and quite ready to abandon the expedition, and these
mutinous Arabs, Eaton was in a position to appreciate the vicissitudes
of Xenophon and his Ten Thousand. No ordinary person, indeed, could have
surmounted all obstacles and brought his balky forces within sight of

Supported by the American fleet which had rendezvoused as agreed in the
Bay of Bomba, the four hundred advanced upon the city. Again the Arab
contingent would have made off into the desert but for the promise of
more money. Hamet was torn by conflicting emotions, in which a desire
to retreat was uppermost. Eaton was, as ever, indefatigable and
indomitable. When his forces were faltering at the crucial moment, he
boldly ordered an assault and carried the defenses of the city. The guns
of the ships in the harbor completed the discomfiture of the enemy,
and the international army took possession of the citadel. Derne won,
however, had to be resolutely defended. Twice within the next four
weeks, Tripolitan forces were beaten back only with the greatest
difficulty. The day after the second assault (June 10th) the frigate
Constellation arrived off Derne with orders which rang down the curtain
on this interlude in the Tripolitan War. Derne was to be evacuated!
Peace had been concluded!

Just what considerations moved the Administration to conclude peace at
a moment when the largest and most powerful American fleet ever placed
under a single command was assembling in the Mediterranean and when the
land expedition was approaching its objective, has never been adequately
explained. Had the President's belligerent spirit oozed away as the
punitive expeditions against Tripoli lost their merely defensive
character and took on the proportions of offensive naval operations? Had
the Administration become alarmed at the drain upon the treasury? Or
did the President wish to have his hands free to deal with those
depredations upon American commerce committed by British and French
cruisers which were becoming far more frequent and serious than ever
the attacks of the Corsairs of the Mediterranean had been? Certain it is
that overtures of peace from the Pasha were welcomed by the very naval
commanders who had been most eager to wrest a victory from the Corsairs.
Perhaps they, too, were wearied by prolonged war with an elusive foe off
a treacherous coast.

How little prepared the Administration was to sustain a prolonged
expedition by land against Tripoli to put Hamet on his throne, appears
in the instructions which Commodore Barron carried to the Mediterranean.
If he could use Eaton and Hamet to make a diversion, well and good;
but he was at the same time to assist Colonel Tobias Lear, American
Consul-General at Algiers, in negotiating terms of peace, if the Pasha
showed a conciliatory spirit. The Secretary of State calculated that
the moment had arrived when peace could probably be secured "without any
price and pecuniary compensation whatever."

Such expectations proved quite unwarranted. The Pasha was ready for
peace, but he still had his price. Poor Bainbridge, writing from
captivity, assured Barron that the Pasha would never let his prisoners
go without a ransom. Nevertheless, Commodore Barron determined to meet
the overtures which the Pasha had made through the Danish consul at
Tripoli. On the 24th of May he put the frigate Essex at the disposal of
Lear, who crossed to Tripoli and opened direct negotiations.

The treaty which Lear concluded on June 4, 1805, was an inglorious
document. It purchased peace, it is true, and the release of some three
hundred sad and woe-begone American sailors. But because the Pasha held
three hundred prisoners, and the United States only a paltry hundred,
the Pasha was to receive sixty thousand dollars. Derne was to be
evacuated and no further aid was to be given to rebellious subjects.
The United States was to endeavor to persuade Hamet to withdraw from the
soil of Tripoli--no very difficult matter--while the Pasha on his part
was to restore Hamet's family to him--at some future time. Nothing was
said about tribute; but it was understood that according to ancient
custom each newly appointed consul should carry to the Pasha a present
not exceeding six thousand dollars.

The Tripolitan War did not end in a blaze of glory for the United
States. It had been waged in the spirit of "not a cent for tribute"; it
was concluded with a thinly veiled payment for peace; and, worst of all,
it did not prevent further trouble with the Barbary States. The war had
been prosecuted with vigor under Preble; it had languished under Barron;
and it ended just when the naval forces were adequate to the task. Yet,
from another point of view, Preble, Decatur, Somers, and their comrades
had not fought in vain. They had created imperishable traditions for the
American navy; they had established a morale in the service; and they
had trained a group of young officers who were to give a good account of
themselves when their foes should be not shifty Tripolitans but sturdy


Bainbridge in forlorn captivity at Tripoli, Preble and Barron keeping
anxious watch off the stormy coast of Africa, Eaton marching through the
windswept desert, are picturesque figures that arrest the attention of
the historian; but they seemed like shadowy actors in a remote drama to
the American at home, absorbed in the humdrum activities of trade and
commerce. Through all these dreary years of intermittent war, other
matters engrossed the President and Congress and caught the attention of
the public. Not the rapacious Pasha of Tripoli but the First Consul of
France held the center of the stage. At the same time that news arrived
of the encounter of the Enterprise with the Corsairs came also the
confirmation of rumors current all winter in Europe. Bonaparte had
secured from Spain the retrocession of the province of Louisiana. From
every point of view, as the President remarked, the transfer of this
vast province to a new master was "an inauspicious circumstance." The
shadow of the Corsican, already a menace to the peace of Europe, fell
across the seas.

A strange chain of circumstances linked Bonaparte with the New World.
When he became master of France by the coup d'etat of the 18th Brumaire
(November 9, 1799), he fell heir to many policies which the republic had
inherited from the old regime. Frenchmen had never ceased to lament the
loss of colonial possessions in North America. From time to time the
hope of reviving the colonial empire sprang up in the hearts of the
rulers of France. It was this hope that had inspired Genet's mission to
the United States and more than one intrigue among the pioneers of
the Mississippi Valley, during Washington's second Administration. The
connecting link between the old regime and the new was the statesman
Talleyrand. He had gone into exile in America when the French Revolution
entered upon its last frantic phase and had brought back to France the
plan and purpose which gave consistency to his diplomacy in the office
of Minister of Foreign Affairs, first under the Directory, then under
the First Consul. Had Talleyrand alone nursed this plan, it would have
had little significance in history; but it was eagerly taken up by a
group of Frenchmen who believed that France, having set her house
in order and secured peace in Europe, should now strive for orderly
commercial development. The road to prosperity, they believed, lay
through the acquisition of colonial possessions. The recovery of the
province of Louisiana was an integral part of their programme.

While the Directory was still in power and Bonaparte was pursuing his
ill-fated expedition in Egypt, Talleyrand had tried to persuade the
Spanish Court to cede Louisiana and the Floridas. The only way for
Spain to put a limit to the ambitions of the Americans, he had argued
speciously, was to shut them up within their natural limits. Only so
could Spain preserve the rest of her immense domain. But since Spain
was confessedly unequal to the task, why not let France shoulder the
responsibility? "The French Republic, mistress of these two provinces,
will be a wall of brass forever impenetrable to the combined efforts
of England and America," he assured the Spaniards. But the time was not

Such, then, was the policy which Bonaparte inherited when he became
First Consul and master of the destinies of his adopted country. A
dazzling future opened before him. Within a year he had pacified Europe,
crushing the armies of Austria by a succession of brilliant victories,
and laying prostrate the petty states of the Italian peninsula. Peace
with England was also in sight. Six weeks after his victory at Marengo,
Bonaparte sent a special courier to Spain to demand--the word is hardly
too strong--the retrocession of Louisiana.

It was an odd whim of Fate that left the destiny of half the American
continent to Don Carlos IV, whom Henry Adams calls "a kind of Spanish
George III "--virtuous, to be sure, but heavy, obtuse, inconsequential,
and incompetent. With incredible fatuousness the King gave his consent
to a bargain by which he was to yield Louisiana in return for Tuscany
or other Italian provinces which Bonaparte had just overrun with his
armies. "Congratulate me," cried Don Carlos to his Prime Minister, his
eyes sparkling, "on this brilliant beginning of Bonaparte's relations
with Spain. The Prince-presumptive of Parma, my son-in-law and nephew,
a Bourbon, is invited by France to reign, on the delightful banks of
the Arno, over a people who once spread their commerce through the known
world, and who were the controlling power of Italy,--a people mild,
civilized, full of humanity; the classical land of science and art." A
few war-ridden Italian provinces for an imperial domain that stretched
from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Superior and that extended westward no
one knew how far!

The bargain was closed by a preliminary treaty signed at San Ildefonso
on October 1, 1800. Just one year later to a day, the preliminaries of
the Peace of Amiens were signed, removing the menace of England on the
seas. The First Consul was now free to pursue his colonial policy, and
the destiny of the Mississippi Valley hung in the balance. Between the
First Consul and his goal, however, loomed up the gigantic figure of
Toussaint L'Ouverture, a full-blooded negro, who had made himself master
of Santo Domingo and had thus planted himself squarely in the searoad
to Louisiana. The story of this "gilded African," as Bonaparte
contemptuously dubbed him, cannot be told in these pages, because it
involves no less a theme than the history of the French Revolution in
this island, once the most thriving among the colonial possessions of
France in the West Indies. The great plantations of French Santo Domingo
(the western part of the island) had supplied half of Europe with sugar,
coffee, and cotton; three-fourths of the imports from French-American
colonies were shipped from Santo Domingo. As the result of class
struggles between whites and mulattoes for political power, the most
terrific slave insurrection in the Western Hemisphere had deluged
the island in blood. Political convulsions followed which wrecked the
prosperity of the island. Out of this chaos emerged the one man who
seemed able to restore a semblance of order--the Napoleon of Santo
Domingo, whose character, thinks Henry Adams, had a curious resemblance
to that of the Corsican. The negro was, however, a ferocious brute
without the redeeming qualities of the Corsican, though, as a leader
of his race, his intelligence cannot be denied. Though professing
allegiance to the French Republic, Toussaint was driven by circumstances
toward independence. While his Corsican counterpart was executing his
coup d'etat and pacifying Europe, he threw off the mask, imprisoned the
agent of the French Directory, seized the Spanish part of the island,
and proclaimed a new constitution for Santo Domingo, assuming all power
for himself for life and the right of naming his successor. The negro
defied the Corsican.

The First Consul was now prepared to accept the challenge. Santo Domingo
must be recovered and restored to its former prosperity--even if slavery
had to be reestablished--before Louisiana could be made the center of
colonial empire in the West. He summoned Leclerc, a general of excellent
reputation and husband of his beautiful sister Pauline, and gave to
him the command of an immense expedition which was already preparing
at Brest. In the latter part of November, Leclerc set sail with a large
fleet bearing an army of ten thousand men and on January 29, 1802,
arrived off the eastern cape of Santo Domingo. A legend says that
Toussaint looking down on the huge armada exclaimed, "We must perish.
All France is coming to Santo Domingo. It has been deceived; it comes
to take vengeance and enslave the blacks." The negro leader made a
formidable resistance, nevertheless, annihilating one French army
and seriously endangering the expedition. But he was betrayed by his
generals, lured within the French lines, made prisoner, and finally
sent to France. He was incarcerated in a French fortress in the Jura
Mountains and there perished miserably in 1803.

The significance of these events in the French West Indies was not lost
upon President Jefferson. The conquest of Santo Domingo was the prelude
to the occupation of Louisiana. It would be only a change of European
proprietors, of absentee landlords, to be sure; but there was a world
of difference between France, bent upon acquiring a colonial empire and
quiescent Spain, resting on her past achievements. The difference was
personified by Bonaparte and Don Carlos. The sovereignty of the lower
Mississippi country could never be a matter of indifference to those
settlers of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio who in the year 1799 sent down
the Mississippi in barges, keel-boats, and flatboats one hundred and
twenty thousand pounds of tobacco, ten thousand barrels of flour,
twenty-two thousand pounds of hemp, five hundred barrels of cider, and
as many more of whiskey, for transshipment and export. The right of
navigation of the Mississippi was a diplomatic problem bequeathed by
the Confederation. The treaty with Spain in 1795 had not solved the
question, though it had established a modus vivendi. Spain had conceded
to Americans the so-called right of deposit for three years--that is,
the right to deposit goods at New Orleans free of duty and to transship
them to ocean-going vessels; and the concession, though never definitely
renewed, was tacitly continued. No; the people of the trans-Alleghany
country could not remain silent and unprotesting witnesses to the
retrocession of Louisiana.

Nor was Jefferson's interest in the Mississippi problem of recent
origin. Ten years earlier as Secretary of State, while England and
Spain seemed about to come to blows over the Nootka Sound affair, he had
approached both France and Spain to see whether the United States might
not acquire the island of New Orleans or at least a port near the mouth
of the river "with a circum-adjacent territory, sufficient for its
support, well-defined, and extraterritorial to Spain." In case of war,
England would in all probability conquer Spanish Louisiana. How
much better for Spain to cede territory on the eastern side of the
Mississippi to a safe neighbor like the United States and thereby make
sure of her possessions on the western waters of that river. It was "not
our interest," wrote Mr. Jefferson, "to cross the Mississippi for ages!"

It was, then, a revival of an earlier idea when President Jefferson,
officially through Robert R. Livingston, Minister to France, and
unofficially through a French gentleman, Dupont de Nemours, sought to
impress upon the First Consul the unwisdom of his taking possession of
Louisiana, without ceding to the United States at least New Orleans and
the Floridas as a "palliation." Even so, France would become an object
of suspicion, a neighbor with whom Americans were bound to quarrel.

Undeterred by this naive threat, doubtless considering its source, the
First Consul pressed Don Carlos for the delivery of Louisiana. The King
procrastinated but at length gave his promise on condition that France
should pledge herself not to alienate the province. Of course, replied
the obliging Talleyrand. The King's wishes were identical with the
intentions of the French government. France would never alienate
Louisiana. The First Consul pledged his word. On October 15, 1802, Don
Carlos signed the order that delivered Louisiana to France.

While the President was anxiously awaiting the results of his diplomacy,
news came from Santo Domingo that Leclerc and his army had triumphed
over Toussaint and his faithless generals, only to succumb to a far more
insidious foe. Yellow fever had appeared in the summer of 1802 and had
swept away the second army dispatched by Bonaparte to take the place
of the first which had been consumed in the conquest of the island.
Twenty-four thousand men had been sacrificed at the very threshold of
colonial empire, and the skies of Europe were not so clear as they had
been. And then came the news of Leclerc's death (November 2, 1802).
Exhausted by incessant worry, he too had succumbed to the pestilence;
and with him, as events proved, passed Bonaparte's dream of colonial
empire in the New World.

Almost at the same time with these tidings a report reached the settlers
of Kentucky and Tennessee that the Spanish intendant at New Orleans had
suspended the right of deposit. The Mississippi was therefore closed to
western commerce. Here was the hand of the Corsican.* Now they knew what
they had to expect from France. Why not seize the opportunity and strike
before the French legions occupied the country? The Spanish garrisons
were weak; a few hundred resolute frontiersmen would speedily overpower

     * It is now clear enough that Bonaparte was not directly
     responsible for this act of the Spanish intendant. See
     Channing, "History of the United States," vol. IV, p. 312,
     and Note, 326-327.

Convinced that he must resort to stiffer measures if he would not be
hurried into hostilities, President Jefferson appointed James Monroe as
Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary to France and Spain.
He was to act with Robert Livingston at Paris and with Charles Pinckney,
Minister to Spain, "in enlarging and more effectually securing our
rights and interests in the river Mississippi and in the territories
eastward thereof"--whatever these vague terms might mean. The President
evidently read much into them, for he assured Monroe that on the event
of his mission depended the future destinies of the Republic.

Two months passed before Monroe sailed with his instructions. He had
ample time to study them, for he was thirty days in reaching the coast
of France. The first aim of the envoys was to procure New Orleans and
the Floridas, bidding as high as ten million dollars if necessary.
Failing in this object, they were then to secure the right of deposit
and such other desirable concessions as they could. To secure New
Orleans, they might even offer to guarantee the integrity of Spanish
possessions on the west bank of the Mississippi. Throughout the
instructions ran the assumption that the Floridas had either passed with
Louisiana into the hands of France or had since been acquired.

While the packet bearing Monroe was buffeting stormy seas, the policy of
Bonaparte underwent a transformation--an abrupt transformation it seemed
to Livingston. On the 12th of March the American Minister witnessed an
extraordinary scene in Madame Bonaparte's drawing-room. Bonaparte and
Lord Whitworth, the British Ambassador, were in conversation, when the
First Consul remarked, "I find, my Lord, your nation want war again."
"No, Sir," replied the Ambassador, "we are very desirous of peace." "I
must either have Malta or war," snapped Bonaparte. The amazed onlookers
soon spread the rumor that Europe was again to be plunged into war; but,
viewed in the light of subsequent events, this incident had even greater
significance; it marked the end of Bonaparte's colonial scheme.
Though the motives for this change of front will always be a matter
of conjecture, they are somewhat clarified by the failure of the Santo
Domingo expedition. Leclerc was dead; the negroes were again in
control; the industries of the island were ruined; Rochambeau, Leclerc's
successor, was clamoring for thirty-five thousand more men to reconquer
the island; the expense was alarming--and how meager the returns for
this colonial venture! Without Santo Domingo, Louisiana would be of
little use; and to restore prosperity to the West India island--even
granting that its immediate conquest were possible--would demand many
years and large disbursements. The path to glory did not lie in this
direction. In Europe, as Henry Adams observes, "war could be made to
support war; in Santo Domingo peace alone could but slowly repair some
part of this frightful waste."

There may well have been other reasons for Bonaparte's change of front.
If he read between the lines of a memoir which Pontalba, a wealthy and
well-informed resident of Louisiana, sent to him, he must have realized
that this province, too, while it might become an inexhaustible source
of wealth for France, might not be easy to hold. There was here, it is
true, no Toussaint L'Ouverture to lead the blacks in insurrection; but
there was a white menace from the north which was far more serious.
These Kentuckians, said Pontalba trenchantly, must be watched, cajoled,
and brought constantly under French influence through agents. There were
men among them who thought of Louisiana "as the highroad to the conquest
of Mexico." Twenty or thirty thousand of these westerners on flatboats
could come down the river and sweep everything before them. To be sure,
they were an undisciplined horde with slender Military equipment--a
striking contrast to the French legions; but, added the Frenchman, "a
great deal of skill in shooting, the habit of being in the woods and of
enduring fatigue--this is what makes up for every deficiency."

And if Bonaparte had ever read a remarkable report of the Spanish
Governor Carondelet, he must have divined that there was something
elemental and irresistible in this down-the-river-pressure of the people
of the West. "A carbine and a little maize in a sack are enough for an
American to wander about in the forests alone for a whole month. With
his carbine, he kills the wild cattle and deer for food and defends
himself from the savages. The maize dampened serves him in lieu of
bread .... The cold does not affright him. When a family tires of one
location, it moves to another, and there it settles with the same ease.
Thus in about eight years the settlement of Cumberland has been formed,
which is now about to be created into a state."

On Easter Sunday, 1803, Bonaparte revealed his purpose, which had
doubtless been slowly maturing, to two of his ministers, one of whom,
Barbs Marbois, was attached to the United States through residence, his
devotion to republican principles, and marriage to an American wife.
The First Consul proposed to cede Louisiana to the United States: he
considered the colony as entirely lost. What did they think of the
proposal? Marbois, with an eye to the needs of the Treasury of which
he was the head, favored the sale of the province; and next day he
was directed to interview Livingston at once. Before he could do so,
Talleyrand, perhaps surmising in his crafty way the drift of the First
Consul's thoughts, startled Livingston by asking what the United States
would give for the whole of Louisiana. Livingston, who was in truth
hard of hearing, could not believe his ears. For months he had talked,
written, and argued in vain for a bit of territory near the mouth of the
Mississippi, and here was an imperial domain tossed into his lap, as
it were. Livingston recovered from his surprise sufficiently to name
a trifling sum which Talleyrand declared too low. Would Mr. Livingston
think it over? He, Talleyrand, really did not speak from authority. The
idea had struck him, that was all.

Some days later in a chance conversation with Marbois, Livingston spoke
of his extraordinary interview with Talleyrand. Marbois intimated that
he was not ignorant of the affair and invited Livingston to a further
conversation. Although Monroe had already arrived in Paris and was now
apprised of this sudden turn of affairs, Livingston went alone to the
Treasury Office and there in conversation, which was prolonged until
midnight, he fenced with Marbois over a fair price for Louisiana.
The First Consul, said Marbois, demanded one hundred million francs.
Livingston demurred at this huge sum. The United States did not want
Louisiana but was willing to give ten million dollars for New Orleans
and the Floridas. What would the United States give then? asked Marbois.
Livingston replied that he would have to confer with Monroe. Finally
Marbois suggested that if they would name sixty million francs, (less
than $12,000,000) and assume claims which Americans had against the
French Treasury for twenty million more, he would take the offer under
advisement. Livingston would not commit himself, again insisting that he
must consult Monroe.

So important did this interview seem to Livingston that he returned
to his apartment and wrote a long report to Madison without waiting
to confer with Monroe. It was three o'clock in the morning when he was
done. "We shall do all we can to cheapen the purchase," he wrote, "but
my present sentiment is that we shall buy."

History does not record what Monroe said when his colleague revealed
these midnight secrets. But in the prolonged negotiations which followed
Monroe, though ill, took his part, and in the end, on April 30, 1803,
set his hand to the treaty which ceded Louisiana to the United States on
the terms set by Marbois. In two conventions bearing the same date, the
commissioners bound the United States to pay directly to France the sum
of sixty million francs ($11,250,000) and to assume debts owed by France
to American citizens, estimated at not more than twenty million francs
($3,750,000). Tradition says that after Marbois, Monroe, and Livingston
had signed their names, Livingston remarked: "We have lived long, but
this is the noblest work of our lives.... From this day the United
States take their place among the powers of the first rank."


The purchase of Louisiana was a diplomatic triumph of the first
magnitude. No American negotiators have ever acquired so much for
so little; yet, oddly enough, neither Livingston nor Monroe had the
slightest notion of the vast extent of the domain which they had
purchased. They had bought Louisiana "with the same extent that it is
now in the hands of Spain, and that it had when France possessed it,
and such as it should be after the treaties subsequently entered into
between Spain and other States," but what its actual boundaries were
they did not know. Considerably disturbed that the treaty contained
no definition of boundaries, Livingston sought information from the
enigmatical Talleyrand. "What are the eastern bounds of Louisiana?"
he asked. "I do not know," replied Talleyrand; "you must take it as we
received it." "But what did you mean to take?" urged Livingston somewhat
naively. "I do not know," was the answer. "Then you mean that we shall
construe it in our own way?" "I can give you no direction," said the
astute Frenchman. "You have made a noble bargain for yourselves, and I
suppose you will make the most of it." And with these vague assurances
Livingston had to be satisfied.

The first impressions of Jefferson were not much more definite, for,
while he believed that the acquired territory more than doubled the area
of the United States, he could only describe it as including all the
waters of the Missouri and the Mississippi. He started at once, however,
to collect information about Louisiana. He prepared a list of queries
which he sent to reputable persons living in or near New Orleans.
The task was one in which he delighted: to accumulate and diffuse
information--a truly democratic mission gave him more real pleasure than
to reign in the Executive Mansion. His interest in the trans-Mississippi
country, indeed, was not of recent birth; he had nursed for years an
insatiable curiosity about the source and course of the Missouri; and in
this very year he had commissioned his secretary, Meriwether Lewis,
to explore the great river and its tributaries, to ascertain if they
afforded a direct and practicable water communication across the

The outcome of the President's questionnaire was a report submitted
to Congress in the fall of 1803, which contained much interesting
information and some entertaining misinformation. The statistical matter
we may put to one side, as contemporary readers doubtless did; certain
impressions are worth recording. New Orleans, the first and immediate
object of negotiations, contained, it would appear, only a small part of
the population of the province, which numbered some twenty or more
rural districts. On the river above the city were the plantations of the
so-called Upper Coast, inhabited mostly by slaves whose Creole masters
lived in town; then, as one journeyed upstream appeared the first and
second German Coasts, where dwelt the descendants of those Germans who
had been brought to the province by John Law's Mississippi Bubble, an
industrious folk making their livelihood as purveyors to the city. Every
Friday night they loaded their small craft with produce and held market
next day on the river front at New Orleans, adding another touch to the
picturesque groups which frequented the levees. Above the German Coasts
were the first and second Acadian Coasts, populated by the numerous
progeny of those unhappy refugees who were expelled from Nova Scotia in
1755. Acadian settlements were scattered also along the backwaters west
of the great river: Bayou Lafourche was lined with farms which were
already producing cotton; near Bayou Teche and Bayou Vermilion--the
Attakapas country--were cattle ranges; and to the north was the richer
grazing country known as Opelousas.

Passing beyond the Iberville River, which was indeed no river at all but
only an overflow of the Mississippi, the traveler up-stream saw on
his right hand "the government of Baton Rouge" with its scattered
settlements and mixed population of French, Spanish, and
Anglo-Americans; and still farther on, the Spanish parish of West
Feliciana, accounted a part of West Florida and described by President
Jefferson as the garden of the cotton-growing region. Beyond this point
the President's description of Louisiana became less confident, as
reliable sources of information failed him. His credulity, however, led
him to make one amazing statement, which provoked the ridicule of his
political opponents, always ready to pounce upon the slips of this
philosopher-president. "One extraordinary fact relative to salt must
not be omitted," he wrote in all seriousness. "There exists, about one
thousand miles up the Missouri, and not far from that river, a salt
mountain! The existence of such a mountain might well be questioned,
were it not for the testimony of several respectable and enterprising
traders who have visited it, and who have exhibited several bushels of
the salt to the curiosity of the people of St. Louis, where some of it
still remains. A specimen of the salt has been sent to Marietta. This
mountain is said to be 180 miles long and 45 in width, composed of solid
rock salt, without any trees or even shrubs on it." One Federalist wit
insisted that this salt mountain must be Lot's wife; another sent an
epigram to the United States Gazette which ran as follows:

Herostratus of old, to eternalize his name Sat the temple of Diana all
in a flame; But Jefferson lately of Bonaparte bought, To pickle his
fame, a mountain of salt.

Jefferson was too much of a philosopher to be disturbed by such gibes;
but he did have certain constitutional doubts concerning the treaty.
How, as a strict constructionist, was he to defend the purchase of
territory outside the limits of the United States, when the Constitution
did not specifically grant such power to the Federal Government? He had
fought the good fight of the year 1800 to oust Federalist administrators
who by a liberal interpretation were making waste paper of the
Constitution. Consistency demanded either that he should abandon the
treaty or that he should ask for the powers which had been denied to
the Federal Government. He chose the latter course and submitted to his
Cabinet and to his followers in Congress a draft of an amendment to the
Constitution conferring the desired powers. To his dismay they treated
his proposal with indifference, not to say coldness. He pressed his
point, redrafted his amendment, and urged its consideration once again.
Meantime letters from Livingston and Monroe warned him that delay was
hazardous; the First Consul might change his mind, as he was wont to do
on slight provocation. Privately Jefferson was deeply chagrined, but he
dared not risk the loss of Louisiana. With what grace he could summon,
he acquiesced in the advice of his Virginia friends who urged him to let
events take their course and to drop the amendment, but he continued to
believe that such a course if persisted in would make blank paper of
the Constitution. He could only trust, as he said in a letter, "that the
good sense of the country will correct the evil of construction when it
shall produce its ill effects."

The debates on the treaty in, Congress make interesting reading for
those who delight in legal subtleties, for many nice questions of
constitutional law were involved. Even granting that territory could be
acquired, there was the further question whether the treaty-making power
was competent irrespective of the House of Representatives. And what,
pray, was meant by incorporating this new province in the Union? Was
Louisiana to be admitted into the Union as a State by President and
Senate? Or was it to be governed as a dependency? And how could the
special privileges given to Spanish and French ships in the port of New
Orleans be reconciled with that provision of the Constitution which,
expressly forbade any preference to be given, by any regulation of
commerce or revenue, to the ports of one State over those of another?
The exigencies of politics played havoc with consistency, so that
Republicans supported the ratification of the treaty with erstwhile
Federalist arguments, while Federalists used the old arguments of the
Republicans. Yet the Senate advised the ratification by a decisive vote
and with surprising promptness; and Congress passed a provisional act
authorizing the President to take over and govern the territory of

The vast province which Napoleon had tossed so carelessly into the lap
of the young Western Republic was, strangely enough, not yet formally in
his possession. The expeditionary force under General Victor which
was to have occupied Louisiana had never left port. M. Pierre Clement
Laussat, however, who was to have accompanied the expedition to assume
the duties of prefect in the province, had sailed alone in January,
1803, to receive the province from the Spanish authorities. If this
lonely Frenchman on mission possessed the imagination of his race,
he must have had some emotional thrills as he reflected that he was
following the sea trail of La Salle and Iberville through the warm
waters of the Gulf of Mexico. He could not have entered the Great River
and breasted its yellow current for a hundred miles, without seeing in
his mind's eye those phantom figures of French and Spanish adventurers
who had voyaged up and down its turbid waters in quest of gold or of
distant Cathay. As his vessel dropped anchor opposite the town which
Bienville had founded, Laussat must have felt that in some degree he was
"heir of all the ages"; yet he was in fact face to face with conditions
which, whatever their historic antecedents, were neither French nor
Spanish. On the water front of New Orleans, he counted "forty-five
Anglo-American ships to ten French." Subsequent experiences deepened
this first impression: it was not Spanish nor French influence which had
made this port important but those "three hundred thousand planters who
in twenty years have swarmed over the eastern plains of the Mississippi
and have cultivated them, and who have no other outlet than this river
and no other port than New Orleans."

The outward aspect of the city, however, was certainly not American.
From the masthead of his vessel Laussat might have seen over a thousand
dwellings of varied architecture: houses of adobe, houses of brick,
houses of stucco; some with bright colors, others with the harmonious
half tones produced by sun and rain. No American artisans constructed
the picturesque balconies, the verandas, and belvederes which suggested
the semitropical existence that Nature forced upon these city dwellers
for more than half the year. No American craftsmen wrought the artistic
ironwork of balconies, gateways, and window gratings. Here was an
atmosphere which suggested the Old World rather than the New. The
streets which ran at right angles were reminiscent of the old regime:
Conde, Conti, Dauphine, St. Louis, Chartres, Bourbon, Orleans--all
these names were to be found within the earthen rampart which formed the
defense of the city.

The inhabitants were a strange mixture: Spanish, French, American,
black, quadroon, and Creole. No adequate definition has ever been
formulated for "Creole," but no one familiar with the type could fail
to distinguish this caste from those descended from the first French
settlers or from the Acadians. A keen observer like Laussat discerned
speedily that the Creole had little place in the commercial life of
the city. He was your landed proprietor, who owned some of the choicest
parts of the city and its growing suburbs, and whose plantations lined
both banks of the Mississippi within easy reach from the city. At the
opposite end of the social scale were the quadroons--the demimonde of
this little capital--and the negro slaves. Between these extremes were
the French and, in ever-growing numbers, the Americans who plied
every trade, while the Spaniards constituted the governing class.
Deliberately, in the course of time, as befitted a Spanish gentleman and
officer, the Marquis de Casa Calvo, resplendent with regalia, arrived
from Havana to act with Governor Don Juan Manuel de Salcedo in
transferring the province. A season of gayety followed in which the
Spaniards did their best to conceal any chagrin they may have felt at
the relinquishment--happily, it might not be termed the surrender--of
Louisiana. And finally on the 30th of November, Governor Salcedo
delivered the keys of the city to Laussat, in the hall of the Cabildo,
while Marquis de Casa Calvo from the balcony absolved the people in
Place d'Armes below from their allegiance to his master, the King of

For the brief term of twenty days Louisiana was again a province of
France. Within that time Laussat bestirred himself to gallicize
the colony, so far as forms could do so. He replaced the cabildo or
hereditary council by a municipal council; he restored the civil code;
he appointed French officers to civil and military posts. And all
this he did in the full consciousness that American commissioners were
already on their way to receive from him in turn the province which his
wayward master had sold. On December 20, 1803, young William Claiborne,
Governor of the Mississippi Territory, and General James Wilkinson, with
a few companies of soldiers, entered and received from Laussat the keys
of the city and the formal surrender of Lower Louisiana. On the Place
d'Armes, promptly at noon, the tricolor was hauled down and the American
Stars and Stripes took its place. Louisiana had been transferred for the
sixth and last time. But what were the metes and bounds of this
province which had been so often bought and sold? What had Laussat been
instructed to take and give? What, in short, was Louisiana?

The elation which Livingston and Monroe felt at acquiring unexpectedly
a vast territory beyond the Mississippi soon gave way to a disquieting
reflection. They had been instructed to offer ten million dollars for
New Orleans and the Floridas: they had pledged fifteen millions for
Louisiana without the Floridas. And they knew that it was precisely West
Florida, with the eastern bank of the Mississippi and the Gulf littoral,
that was most ardently desired by their countrymen of the West. But
might not Louisiana include West Florida? Had Talleyrand not professed
ignorance of the eastern boundary? And had he not intimated that
the Americans would make the most of their bargain? Within a month
Livingston had convinced himself that the United States could rightfully
claim West Florida to the Perdido River, and he soon won over Monroe to
his way of thinking. They then reported to Madison that "on a thorough
examination of the subject" they were persuaded that they had purchased
West Florida as a part of Louisiana.

By what process of reasoning had Livingston and Monroe reached this
satisfying conclusion? Their argument proceeded from carefully chosen
premises. France, it was said, had once held Louisiana and the Floridas
together as part of her colonial empire in America; in 1763 she had
ceded New Orleans and the territory west of the Mississippi to Spain,
and at the same time she had transferred the Floridas to Great Britain;
in 1783 Great Britain had returned the Floridas to Spain which were then
reunited to Louisiana as under French rule. Ergo, when Louisiana was
retro-ceded "with the same extent that it now has in the hands of Spain,
and that it had when France possessed it," it must have included West

That Livingston was able to convince himself by this logic, does not
speak well for his candor or intelligence. He was well aware that
Bonaparte had failed to persuade Don Carlos to include the Floridas
in the retrocession; he had tried to insert in the treaty an article
pledging the First Consul to use his good offices to obtain the Floridas
for the United States; and in his midnight dispatch to Madison, with
the prospect of acquiring Louisiana before him, he had urged the
advisability of exchanging this province for the more desirable
Floridas. Livingston therefore could not, and did not, say that Spain
intended to cede the Floridas as a part of Louisiana, but that she
had inadvertently done so and that Bonaparte might have claimed West
Florida, if he had been shrewd enough to see his opportunity. The United
States was in no way prevented from pressing this claim because the
First Consul had not done so. The fact that France had in 1763 actually
dismembered her colonial empire and that Louisiana as ceded to Spain
extended only to the Iberville, was given no weight in Livingston's

Having the will to believe, Jefferson and Madison became converts
to Livingston's faith. Madison wrote at once that in view of these
developments no proposal to exchange Louisiana for the Floridas should
be entertained; the President declared himself satisfied that "our right
to the Perdido is substantial and can be opposed by a quibble on form
only"; and John Randolph, duly coached by the Administration, flatly
declared in the House of Representatives that "We have not only obtained
the command of the mouth of the Mississippi, but of the Mobile, with its
widely extended branches; and there is not now a single stream of note
rising within the United States and falling into the Gulf of Mexico
which is not entirely our own, the Appalachicola excepted." From this
moment to the end of his administration, the acquisition of West Florida
became a sort of obsession with Jefferson. His pursuit of this phantom
claim involved American diplomats in strange adventures and at times
deflected the whole course of domestic politics.

The first luckless minister to engage in this baffling quest was James
Monroe, who had just been appointed Minister to the Court of St. James.
He was instructed to take up the threads of diplomacy at Madrid where
they were getting badly tangled in the hands of Charles Pinckney, who
was a better politician than a diplomat. "Your inquiries may also be
directed," wrote Madison, "to the question whether any, and how much, of
what passes for West Florida be fairly included in the territory ceded
to us by France." Before leaving Paris on this mission, Monroe made
an effort to secure the good offices of the Emperor, but he found
Talleyrand cold and cynical as ever. He was given to understand that it
was all a question of money; if the United States were willing to pay
the price, the Emperor could doubtless have the negotiations transferred
to Paris and put the deal through. A loan of seventy million livres to
Spain, which would be passed over at once to France, would probably put
the United States into possession of the coveted territory. As an honest
man Monroe shrank from this sort of jobbery; besides, he could hardly
offer to buy a territory which his Government asserted it had already
bought with Louisiana. With the knowledge that he was defying Napoleon,
or at least his ministers, he started for Madrid to play a lone hand in
what he must have known was a desperate game.

The conduct of the Administration during the next few months was hardly
calculated to smooth Monroe's path. In the following February (1804)
President Jefferson put his signature to an act which was designed
to give effect to the laws of the United States in the newly acquired
territory. The fourth section of this so-called Mobile Act included
explicitly within the revenue district of Mississippi all the navigable
waters lying within the United States and emptying into the Gulf east
of the Mississippi--an extraordinary provision indeed, since unless the
Floridas were a part of the United States there were no rivers within
the limits of the United States emptying into the Gulf east of the
Mississippi. The eleventh section was even more remarkable since it gave
the President authority to erect Mobile Bay and River into a separate
revenue district and to designate a port of entry.

This cool appropriation of Spanish territory was too much for the
excitable Spanish Minister, Don Carlos Martinez Yrujo, who burst into
Madison's office one morning with a copy of the act in his hand and with
angry protests on his lips. He had been on excellent terms with Madison
and had enjoyed Jefferson's friendship and hospitality at Monticello;
but he was the accredited representative of His Catholic Majesty and
bound to defend his sovereignty. He fairly overwhelmed the timid Madison
with reproaches that could never be forgiven or forgotten; and from this
moment he was persona non grata in the Department of State.

Madison doubtless took Yrujo's reproaches more to heart just because
he felt himself in a false position. The Administration had allowed the
transfer of Louisiana to be made in the full knowledge that Laussat had
been instructed to claim Louisiana as far as the Rio Bravo on the
west but only as far as the Iberville on the east. Laussat had finally
admitted as much confidentially to the American commissioners. Yet
the Administration had not protested. And now it was acting on the
assumption that it might dispose of the Gulf littoral, the West Florida
coast, as it pleased. Madison was bound to admit in his heart of hearts
that Yrujo had reason to be angry. A few weeks later the President
relieved the tense situation, though at the price of an obvious evasion,
by issuing a proclamation which declared all the shores and waters
"lying _Within the Boundaries of The United States_" * to be a revenue
district with Fort Stoddert as the port of entry. But the mischief had
been done and no constructive interpretation of the act by the President
could efface the impression first made upon the mind of Yrujo. Congress
had meant to appropriate West Florida and the President had suffered the
bill to become law.

     * The italics are President Jefferson's.

Nor was Pinckney's conduct at Madrid likely to make Monroe's mission
easier. Two years before, in 1802, he had negotiated a convention by
which Spain agreed to pay indemnity for depredations committed by her
cruisers in the late war between France and the United States. This
convention had been ratified somewhat tardily by the Senate and
now waited on the pleasure of the Spanish Government. Pinckney was
instructed to press for the ratification by Spain, which was taken for
granted; but he was explicitly warned to leave the matter of the Florida
claims to Monroe. When he presented the demands of his Government to
Cevallos, the Foreign Minister, he was met in turn with a demand for
explanations. What, pray, did his Government mean by this act? To
Pinckney's astonishment, he was confronted with a copy of the Mobile
Act, which Yrujo had forwarded. The South Carolinian replied, in a tone
that was not calculated to soothe ruffled feelings, that he had already
been advised that West Florida was included in the Louisiana purchase
and had so reported to Cevallos. He urged that the two subjects be kept
separate and begged His Excellency to have confidence in the honor and
justice of the United States. Delays followed until Cevallos finally,
declared sharply that the treaty would be ratified only on several
conditions, one of which was that the Mobile Act should be revoked.
Pinckney then threw discretion to the winds and announced that he would
ask for his passports; but his bluster did not change Spanish policy,
and he dared not carry out his threat.

It was under these circumstances that Monroe arrived in Madrid on his
difficult mission. He was charged with the delicate task of persuading
a Government whose pride had been touched to the quick to ratify the
claims convention, to agree to a commission to adjudicate other claims
which it had refused to recognize, to yield West Florida as a part of
the Louisiana purchase, and to accept two million dollars for the rest
of Florida east of the Perdido River. In preparing these extraordinary
instructions, the Secretary of State labored under the hallucination
that Spain, on the verge of war with England, would pay handsomely for
the friendship of the United States, quite forgetting that the real
master of Spain was at Paris.

The story of Monroe's five weary months in Spain may be briefly told. He
was in the unstrategic position of one who asks for everything and can
concede nothing. Only one consideration could probably have forced the
Spanish Government to yield, and that was fear. Spain had now declared
war upon England and might reasonably be supposed to prefer a solid
accommodation with the United States, as Madison intimated, rather than
add to the number of her foes. But Cevallos exhibited no signs of fear;
on the contrary he professed an amiable willingness to discuss every
point at great length. Every effort on the part of the American to reach
a conclusion was adroitly eluded. It was a game in which the Spaniard
had no equal. At last, when indubitable assurances came to Monroe
from Paris that Napoleon would not suffer Spain to make the slightest
concession either in the matter of spoliation claims or any other
claims, and that, in the event of a break between the United States and
Spain, he would surely take the part of Spain, Monroe abandoned the game
and asked for his passports. Late in May he returned to Paris, where he
joined with General Armstrong, who had succeeded Livingston, in urging
upon the Administration the advisability of seizing Texas, leaving West
Florida alone for the present.

Months of vacillation followed the failure of Monroe's mission. The
President could not shake off his obsession, and yet he lacked the
resolution to employ force to take either Texas, which he did not want
but was entitled to, or West Florida which he ardently desired but whose
title was in dispute. It was not until November of the following year
(1805) that the Administration determined on a definite policy. In a
meeting of the Cabinet "I proposed," Jefferson recorded in a memorandum,
"we should address ourselves to France, informing her it was a last
effort at amicable settlement with Spain and offer to her, or through
her," a sum not to exceed five million dollars for the Floridas. The
chief obstacle in the way of this programme was the uncertain mood of
Congress, for a vote of credit was necessary and Congress might not take
kindly to Napoleon as intermediary. Jefferson then set to work to draft
a message which would "alarm the fears of Spain by a vigorous language,
in order to induce her to join us in appealing to the interference of
the Emperor."

The message sent to Congress alluded briefly to the negotiations with
Spain and pointed out the unsatisfactory relations which still obtained.
Spain had shown herself unwilling to adjust claims or the boundaries
of Louisiana; her depredations on American commerce had been renewed;
arbitrary duties and vexatious searches continued to obstruct American
shipping on the Mobile; inroads had been made on American territory;
Spanish officers and soldiers had seized the property of American
citizens. It was hoped that Spain would view these injuries in
their proper light; if not, then the United States "must join in the
unprofitable contest of trying which party can do the other the most
harm. Some of these injuries may perhaps admit a peaceable remedy. Where
that is competent, it is always the most desirable. But some of them are
of a nature to be met by force only, and all of them may lead to it."

Coming from the pen of a President who had declared that peace was his
passion, these belligerent words caused some bewilderment but, on the
whole, very considerable satisfaction in Republican circles, where the
possibility of rupture had been freely discussed. The people of the
Southwest took the President at his word and looked forward with
enthusiasm to a war which would surely overthrow Spanish rule in the
Floridas and yield the coveted lands along the Gulf of Mexico. The
country awaited with eagerness those further details which the President
had promised to set forth in another message. These were felt to be
historic moments full of dramatic possibilities.

Three days later, behind closed doors, Congress listened to the special
message which was to put the nation to the supreme test. Alas for those
who had expected a trumpet call to battle. Never was a state paper
better calculated to wither martial spirit. In dull fashion it recounted
the events of Monroe's unlucky mission and announced the advance of
Spanish forces in the Southwest, which, however, the President had not
repelled, conceiving that "Congress alone is constitutionally invested
with the power of changing our condition from peace to war." He had
"barely instructed" our forces "to patrol the borders actually delivered
to us." It soon dawned upon the dullest intelligence that the President
had not the slightest intention to recommend a declaration of war. On
the contrary, he was at pains to point out the path to peace. There
was reason to believe that France was now disposed to lend her aid in
effecting a settlement with Spain, and "not a moment should be lost
in availing ourselves of it." "Formal war is not necessary, it is not
probable it will follow; but the protection of our citizens, the spirit
and honor of our country, require that force should be interposed to
a certain degree. It will probably contribute to advance the object of

After the warlike tone of the first message, this sounded like a
retreat. It outraged the feelings of the war party. It was, to their
minds, an anticlimax, a pusillanimous surrender. None was angrier than
John Randolph of Virginia, hitherto the leader of the forces of the
Administration in the House. He did not hesitate to express his disgust
with "this double set of opinions and principles"; and his anger mounted
when he learned that as Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means
he was expected to propose and carry through an appropriation of two
million dollars for the purchase of Florida. Further interviews with the
President and the Secretary of State did not mollify him, for, according
to his version of these conversations, he was informed that France would
not permit Spain to adjust her differences with the United States, which
had, therefore, the alternative of paying France handsomely or of facing
a war with both France and Spain. Then Randolph broke loose from
all restraint and swore by all his gods that he would not assume
responsibility for "delivering the public purse to the first cut-throat
that demanded it."

Randolph's opposition to the Florida programme was more than an
unpleasant episode in Jefferson's administration; it proved to be the
beginning of a revolt which was fatal to the President's diplomacy, for
Randolph passed rapidly from passive to active opposition and fought
the two-million dollar bill to the bitter end. When the House finally
outvoted him and his faction, soon to be known as the "Quids," and the
Senate had concurred, precious weeks had been lost. Yet Madison must
bear some share of blame for the delay since, for some reason, never
adequately explained, he did not send instructions to Armstrong until
four weeks after the action of Congress. It was then too late to
bait the master of Europe. Just what had happened Armstrong could not
ascertain; but when Napoleon set out in October, 1806, on that fateful
campaign which crushed Prussia at Jena and Auerstadt, the chance of
acquiring Florida had passed.


With the transfer of Louisiana, the United States entered upon its first
experience in governing an alien civilized people. At first view there
is something incongruous in the attempt of the young Republic, founded
upon the consent of the governed, to rule over a people whose land had
been annexed without their consent and whose preferences in the matter
of government had never been consulted. The incongruity appears the
more striking when it is recalled that the author of the Declaration of
Independence was now charged with the duty of appointing all officers,
civil and military, in the new territory. King George III had never
ruled more autocratically over any of his North American colonies than
President Jefferson over Louisiana through Governor William Claiborne
and General James Wilkinson.

The leaders among the Creoles and better class of Americans counted on
a speedy escape from this autocratic government, which was confessedly
temporary. The terms of the treaty, indeed, encouraged the hope that
Louisiana would be admitted at once as a State. The inhabitants of the
ceded territory were to be "incorporated into the Union." But Congress
gave a different interpretation to these words and dashed all hopes by
the act of 1804, which, while it conceded a legislative council, made
its members and all officers appointive, and divided the province.
A delegation of Creoles went to Washington to protest against this
inconsiderate treatment. They bore a petition which contained many
stiletto-like thrusts at the President. What about those elemental
rights of representation and election which had figured in the glorious
contest for freedom? "Do political axioms on the Atlantic become
problems when transferred to the shores of the Mississippi?" To such
arguments Congress could not remain wholly indifferent. The outcome
was a third act (March 2, 1805) which established the usual form of
territorial government, an elective legislature, a delegate in Congress,
and a Governor appointed by the President. To a people who had counted
on statehood these concessions were small pinchbeck. Their irritation
was not allayed, and it continued to focus upon Governor Claiborne, the
distrusted agent of a government which they neither liked nor respected.

Strange currents and counter-currents ran through the life of this
distant province. Casa Calvo and Morales, the former Spanish officials,
continued to reside in the city, like spiders at the center of a web of
Spanish intrigue; and the threads of their web extended to West Florida,
where Governor Folch watched every movement of Americans up and down
the Mississippi, and to Texas, where Salcedo, Captain-General of
the Internal Provinces of Mexico, waited for overt aggressions from
land-hungry American frontiersmen. All these Spanish agents knew that
Monroe had left Madrid empty-handed yet still asserting claims that were
ill-disguised threats; but none of them knew whether the impending blow
would fall upon West Florida or Texas. Then, too, right under their eyes
was the Mexican Association, formed for the avowed purpose of collecting
information about Mexico which would be useful if the United States
should become involved in war with Spain. In the city, also, were
adventurous individuals ready for any daring move upon Mexico, where,
according to credible reports, a revolution was imminent. The conquest
of Mexico was the day-dream of many an adventurer. In his memoir
advising Bonaparte to take and hold Louisiana as an impenetrable barrier
to Mexico, Pontalba had said with strong conviction: "It is the
surest means of destroying forever the bold schemes with which several
individuals in the United States never cease filling the newspapers, by
designating Louisiana as the highroad to the conquest of Mexico."

Into this web of intrigue walked the late Vice-President of the United
States, leisurely journeying through the Southwest in the summer of

Aaron Burr is one of the enigmas of American politics. Something of
the mystery and romance that shroud the evil-doings of certain Italian
despots of the age of the Renaissance envelops him. Despite the
researches of historians, the tangled web of Burr's conspiracy has never
been unraveled. It remains the most fascinating though, perhaps, the
least important episode in Jefferson's administration. Yet Burr himself
repays study, for his activities touch many sides of contemporary
society and illuminate many dark corners in American politics.

According to the principles of eugenics, Burr was well-born, and by
all the laws of this pseudo-science should have left an honorable name
behind him. His father was a Presbyterian clergyman, sound in the faith,
who presided over the infancy of the College of New Jersey; his maternal
grandfather was that massive divine, Jonathan Edwards. After graduating
at Princeton, Burr began to study law but threw aside his law books on
hearing the news of Lexington. He served with distinction under Arnold
before Quebec, under Washington in the battle of Long Island, and later
at Monmouth, and retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1779.
Before the close of the Revolution he had begun the practice of law in
New York, and had married the widow of a British army officer;
entering politics, he became in turn a member of the State Assembly,
Attorney-General, and United States Senator. But a mere enumeration
of such details does not tell the story of Burr's life and character.
Interwoven with the strands of his public career is a bewildering
succession of intrigues and adventures in which women have a conspicuous
part, for Burr was a fascinating man and disarmed distrust by avoiding
any false assumption of virtue. His marriage, however, proved happy. He
adored his wife and fairly worshiped his strikingly beautiful daughter

Burr throve in the atmosphere of intrigue. New York politics afforded
his proper milieu. How he ingratiated himself with politicians of high
and low degree; how he unlocked the doors to political preferment;
how he became one of the first bosses of the city of New York; how he
combined public service with private interest; how he organized the
voters--no documents disclose. Only now and then the enveloping fog
lifts, as, for example, during the memorable election of 1800, when the
ignorant voters of the seventh ward, duly drilled and marshaled, carried
the city for the Republicans, and not even Colonel Hamilton, riding on
his white horse from precinct to precinct, could stay the rout. That
election carried New York for Jefferson and made Burr the logical
candidate of the party for Vice-President.

These political strokes betoken a brilliant if not always a steady
and reliable mind. Burr, it must be said, was not trusted even by his
political associates. It is significant that Washington, a keen judge
of men, refused to appoint Burr as Minister to France to succeed Morris
because he was not convinced of his integrity. And Jefferson shared
these misgivings, though the exigencies of politics made him dissemble
his feelings. It is significant, also, that Burr was always surrounded
by men of more than doubtful intentions--place-hunters and self-seeking
politicians, who had the gambler's instinct.

As Vice-President, Burr could not hope to exert much influence upon the
Administration, since the office in itself conferred little power and
did not even, according to custom, make him a member of the Cabinet;
but as Republican boss of New York who had done more than any one man
to secure the election of the ticket in 1800, he might reasonably expect
Jefferson and his Virginia associates to treat him with consideration in
the distribution of patronage. To his intense chagrin, he was ignored;
not only ignored but discredited, for Jefferson deliberately allied
himself with the Clintons and the Livingstons, the rival factions in New
York which were bent upon driving Burr from the party. This treatment
filled Burr's heart with malice; but he nursed his wounds in secret and
bided his time.

Realizing that he was politically bankrupt, Burr made a hazard of new
fortunes in 1804 by offering himself as candidate for Governor of New
York, an office then held by George Clinton. Early in the year he had a
remarkable interview with Jefferson in which he observed that it was
for the interest of the party for him to retire, but that his retirement
under existing circumstances would be thought discreditable. He asked
"some mark of favor from me," Jefferson wrote in his journal, "which
would declare to the world that he retired with my confidence"--an
executive appointment, in short. This was tantamount to an offer of
peace or war. Jefferson declined to gratify him, and Burr then began an
intrigue with the Federalist leaders of New England.

The rise of a Republican party of challenging strength in New England
cast Federalist leaders into the deepest gloom. Already troubled by the
annexation of Louisiana, which seemed to them to imperil the ascendancy
of New England in the Union, they now saw their own ascendancy in New
England imperiled. Under the depression of impending disaster, men
like Senator Timothy Pickering of Massachusetts and Roger Griswold of
Connecticut broached to their New England friends the possibility of a
withdrawal from the Union and the formation of a Northern Confederacy.
As the confederacy shaped itself in Pickering's imagination, it would
of necessity include New York; and the chaotic conditions in New York
politics at this time invited intrigue. When, therefore, a group of
Burr's friends in the Legislature named him as their candidate for
Governor, Pickering and Griswold seized the moment to approach him with
their treasonable plans. They gave him to understand that as Governor of
New York he would naturally hold a strategic position and could, if he
would, take the lead in the secession of the Northern States. Federalist
support could be given to him in the approaching election. They would
be glad to know his views. But the shifty Burr would not commit himself
further than to promise a satisfactory administration. Though the
Federalist intriguers would have been glad of more explicit assurances
they counted on his vengeful temper and hatred of the Virginia
domination at Washington to make him a pliable tool. They were willing
to commit the party openly to Burr and trust to events to bind him to
their cause.

Against this mad intrigue one clear-headed individual resolutely set
himself--not wholly from disinterested motives. Alexander Hamilton had
good reason to know Burr. He declared in private conversation, and the
remark speedily became public property, that he looked upon Burr as a
dangerous man who ought not to be trusted with the reins of government.
He pleaded with New York Federalists not to commit the fatal blunder of
endorsing Burr in caucus, and he finally won his point; but he could not
prevent his partisans from supporting Burr at the polls.

The defeat of Burr dashed the hopes of the Federalists of New England;
the bubble of a Northern Confederacy vanished. It dashed also Burr's
personal ambitions: he could no longer hope for political rehabilitation
in New York. And the man who a second time had crossed his path and
thwarted his purposes was his old rival, Alexander Hamilton. It is said
that Burr was not naturally vindictive: perhaps no man is naturally
vindictive. Certain it is that bitter disappointment had now made Burr
what Hamilton had called him--"a dangerous man." He took the common
course of men of honor at this time; he demanded prompt and unqualified
acknowledgment or denial of the expression. Well aware of what lay
behind this demand, Hamilton replied deliberately with half-conciliatory
words, but he ended with the usual words of those prepared to accept
a challenge, "I can only regret the circumstance, and must abide the
consequences." A challenge followed. We are told that Hamilton accepted
to save his political leadership and influence--strange illusion in one
so gifted! Yet public opinion had not yet condemned dueling, and men
must be judged against the background of their times.

On a summer morning (July 11, 1804) Burr and Hamilton crossed the Hudson
to Weehawken and there faced each other for the last time. Hamilton
withheld his fire; Burr aimed with murderous intent, and Hamilton fell
mortally wounded. The shot from Burr's pistol long reverberated. It woke
public conscience to the horror and uselessness of dueling, and left
Burr an outlaw from respectable society, stunned by the recoil, and
under indictment for murder. Only in the South and West did men treat
the incident lightly as an affair of honor.

The political career of Burr was now closed. When he again met the
Senate face to face, he had been dropped by his own party in favor of
George Clinton, to whom he surrendered the Vice-Presidency on March 5,
1805. His farewell address is described as one of the most affecting
ever spoken in the Senate. Describing the scene to his daughter, Burr
said that tears flowed abundantly, but Burr must have described what he
wished to see. American politicians are not Homeric heroes, who weep
on slight provocation; and any inclination to pity Burr must have been
inhibited by the knowledge that he had made himself the rallying-point
of every dubious intrigue at the capital.

The list of Burr's intimates included Jonathan Dayton, whose term as
Senator had just ended, and who, like Burr, sought means of promoting
his fortunes, John Smith, Senator from Ohio, the notorious Swartwouts
of New York who were attached to Burr as gangsters to their chief, and
General James Wilkinson, governor of the northern territory carved out
of Louisiana and commander of the western army with headquarters at St.

Wilkinson had a long record of duplicity, which was suspected but never
proved by his contemporaries. There was hardly a dubious episode from
the Revolution to this date with which he had not been connected. He was
implicated in the Conway cabal against Washington; he was active in the
separatist movement in Kentucky during the Confederation; he entered
into an irregular commercial agreement with the Spanish authorities
at New Orleans; he was suspected--and rightly, as documents recently
unearthed in Spain prove--of having taken an oath of allegiance to Spain
and of being in the pay of Spain; he was also suspected--and justly--of
using his influence to bring about a separation of the Western States
from the Union; yet in 1791 he was given a lieutenant-colonel's
commission in the regular army and served under St. Clair in the
Northwest, and again as a brigadier-general under Wayne. Even here the
atmosphere of intrigue enveloped him, and he was accused of inciting
discontent among the Kentucky troops and of trying to supplant
Wayne. When commissioners were trying to run the Southern boundary
in accordance with the treaty of 1795 with Spain, Wilkinson--still a
pensioner of Spain, as documents prove--attempted to delay the survey.
In the light of these revelations, Wilkinson appears as an unscrupulous
adventurer whose thirst for lucre made him willing to betray either
master--the Spaniard who pensioned him or the American who gave him his

In the spring of 1805 Burr made a leisurely journey across the
mountains, by way of Pittsburgh, to New Orleans, where he had friends
and personal followers. The secretary of the territory was one of his
henchmen; a justice of the superior court was his stepson; the Creole
petitionists who had come to Washington to secure self-government had
been cordially received by Burr and had a lively sense of gratitude. On
his way down the Ohio, Burr landed at Blennerhassett's Island, where an
eccentric Irishman of that name owned an estate. Harman Blennerhassett
was to rue the day that he entertained this fascinating guest. At
Cincinnati he was the guest of Senator Smith, and there he also met
Dayton. At Nashville he visited General Andrew Jackson, who was thrilled
with the prospect of war with Spain; at Fort Massac he spent four
days in close conference with General Wilkinson; and at New Orleans he
consorted with Daniel Clark, a rich merchant and the most uncompromising
opponent of Governor Claiborne, and with members of the Mexican
Association and every would-be adventurer and filibuster. In November,
Burr was again in Washington. What was the purpose of this journey and
what did it accomplish?

It is far easier to tell what Burr did after this mysterious western
expedition than what he planned to do. There is danger of reading too
great consistency into his designs. At one moment, if we may believe
Anthony Merry, the British Minister, who lent an ear to Burr's
proposals, he was plotting a revolution which should separate the
Western States from the Union. To accomplish this design he needed
British funds and a British naval force. Jonathan Dayton revealed to
Yrujo much the same plot--which he thought was worth thirty or forty
thousand dollars to the Spanish Government. To such urgent necessity for
funds were the conspirators driven. But Dayton added further details
to the story which may have been intended only to intimidate Yrujo. The
revolution effected by British aid, said Dayton gravely, an expedition
would be undertaken against Mexico. Subsequently Dayton unfolded a still
more remarkable tale. Burr had been disappointed in the expectation of
British aid, and he was now bent upon "an almost insane plan," which was
nothing less than the seizure of the Government at Washington. With the
government funds thus obtained, and with the necessary frigates, the
conspirators would sail for New Orleans and proclaim the independence of
Louisiana and the Western States.

The kernel of truth in these accounts is not easily separated from the
chaff. The supposition that Burr seriously contemplated a separation of
the Western States from the Union may be dismissed from consideration.
The loyalty of the Mississippi Valley at this time is beyond question;
and Burr was too keen an observer not to recognize the temper of the
people with whom he sojourned. But there is reason to believe that he
and his confederates may have planned an enterprise against Mexico, for
such a project was quite to the taste of Westerners who hated Spain as
ardently as they loved the Union. Circumstances favored a filibustering
expedition. The President's bellicose message of December had prepared
the people of the Mississippi Valley for war; the Spanish plotters had
been expelled from Louisiana; Spanish forces had crossed the Sabine;
American troops had been sent to repel them if need be; the South
American revolutionist Miranda had sailed, with vessels fitted out
in New York, to start a revolt against Spanish rule in Caracas; every
revolutionist in New Orleans was on the qui vive. What better time could
there be to launch a filibustering expedition against Mexico? If it
succeeded and a republic were established, the American Government might
be expected to recognize a fait accompli.

The success of Burr's plans, whatever they may have been, depended on
his procuring funds; and it was doubtless the hope of extracting aid
from Blennerhassett that drew him to the island in midsummer of 1806.
Burr was accompanied by his daughter Theodosia and her husband, Joseph
Alston, a wealthy South Carolina planter, who was either the dupe or the
accomplice of Burr. Together they persuaded the credulous Irishman to
purchase a tract of land on the Washita River in the heart of Louisiana,
which would ultimately net him a profit of a million dollars when
Louisiana became an independent state with Burr as ruler and England
as protector. They even assured Blennerhassett that he should go as
minister to England. He was so dazzled at the prospect that he not only
made the initial payment for the lands, but advanced all his property
for Burr's use on receiving a guaranty from Alston. Having landed his
fish, Burr set off down the river to visit General Jackson at Nashville
and to procure boats and supplies for his expedition.

Meanwhile, Theodosia--the brilliant, fascinating Theodosia--and her
husband played the game at Blennerhassett's Island. Blennerhassett's
head was completely turned. He babbled most indiscreetly about the
approaching coup d'etat. Colonel Burr would be king of Mexico, he told
his gardener, and Mrs. Alston would be queen when Colonel Burr died. Who
could resist the charms of this young princess? Blennerhassett and his
wife were impatient to exchange their little isle for marble halls in
far away Mexico.

But all was not going well with the future Emperor of Mexico. Ugly
rumors were afloat. The active preparations at Blennerhassett's Island,
the building of boats at various points along the river, the enlistment
of recruits, coupled with hints of secession, disturbed such loyal
citizens as the District-Attorney at Frankfort, Kentucky. He took it
upon himself to warn the President, and then, in open court, charged
Burr with violating the laws of the United States by setting on foot
a military expedition against Mexico and with inciting citizens to
rebellion in the Western States. But at the meeting of the grand jury
Burr appeared surrounded by his friends and with young Henry Clay for
counsel. The grand jury refused to indict him and he left the court in
triumph. Some weeks later the District-Attorney renewed his motion;
but again Burr was discharged by the grand jury, amid popular applause.
Enthusiastic admirers in Frankfort even gave a ball in his honor.

Notwithstanding these warnings of conspiracy, President Jefferson
exhibited a singular indifference and composure. To all alarmists he
made the same reply. The people of the West were loyal and could be
trusted. It was not until disquieting and ambiguous messages from
Wilkinson reached Washington-disquieting because ambiguous--that the
President was persuaded to act. On the 27th of November, he issued
a proclamation warning all good citizens that sundry persons were
conspiring against Spain and enjoining all Federal officers to apprehend
those engaged in the unlawful enterprise. The appearance of this
proclamation at Nashville should have led to Burr's arrest, for he was
still detained there; but mysterious influences seemed to paralyze the
arm of the Government. On the 22d of December, Burr set off, with two
boats which Jackson had built and some supplies, down the Cumberland.
At the mouth of the river, he joined forces with Blennerhassett, who had
left his island in haste just as the Ohio militia was about to descend
upon him. The combined strength of the flotilla was nine bateaux
carrying less than sixty men. There was still time to intercept the
expedition at Fort Massac, but again delays that have never been
explained prevented the President's proclamation from arriving in time;
and Burr's little fleet floated peacefully by down stream.

The scene now shifts to the lower Mississippi, and the heavy villain
of the melodrama appears on the stage in the uniform of a United States
military officer--General James Wilkinson. He had been under orders
since May 6, 1806, to repair to the Territory of Orleans with as little
delay as possible and to repel any invasion east of the River Sabine;
but it was now September and he had only just reached Natchitoches,
where the American volunteers and militiamen from Louisiana and
Mississippi were concentrating. Much water had flowed under the bridge
since Aaron Burr visited New Orleans.

After President Jefferson's bellicose message of the previous December,
war with Spain seemed inevitable. And when Spanish troops crossed
the Sabine in July and took up their post only seventeen miles
from Natchitoches, Western Americans awaited only the word to begin
hostilities. The Orleans Gazette declared that the time to repel Spanish
aggression had come. The enemy must be driven beyond the Sabine. "The
route from Natchitoches to Mexico is clear, plain, and open." The
occasion was at hand "for conferring on our oppressed Spanish brethren
in Mexico those inestimable blessings of freedom which we ourselves
enjoy." "Gallant Louisianians! Now is the time to distinguish yourselves
.... Should the generous efforts of our Government to establish a free,
independent Republican Empire in Mexico be successful, how fortunate,
how enviable would be the situation in New Orleans!" The editor who
sounded this clarion call was a coadjutor of Burr. On the flood tide
of a popular war against Spain, they proposed to float their own
expedition. Much depended on General Wilkinson; but he had already
written privately of subverting the Spanish Government in Mexico, and
carrying "our conquests to California and the Isthmus of Darien."

With much swagger and braggadocio, Wilkinson advanced to the center of
the stage. He would drive the Spaniards over the Sabine, though they
outnumbered him three to one. "I believe, my friend," he wrote, "I shall
be obliged to fight and to flog them." Magnificent stage thunder. But
to Wilkinson's chagrin the Spaniards withdrew of their own accord. Not
a Spaniard remained to contest his advance to the border. Yet, oddly
enough, he remained idle in camp. Why?

Some two weeks later, an emissary appeared at Natchitoches with a letter
from Burr dated the 29th of July, in cipher. What this letter may have
originally contained will probably never be known, for only Wilkinson's
version survives, and that underwent frequent revision.* It is quite
as remarkable for its omissions as for anything that it contains. In
it there is no mention of a western uprising nor of a revolution in
New Orleans; but only the intimation that an attack is to be made upon
Spanish possessions, presumably Mexico, with possibly Baton Rouge as the
immediate objective. Whether or no this letter changed Wilkinson's plan,
we can only conjecture. Certain it is, however, that about this time
Wilkinson determined to denounce Burr and his associates and to play a
double game, posing on the one hand as the savior of his country and on
the other as a secret friend to Spain. After some hesitation he wrote
to President Jefferson warning him in general terms of an expedition
preparing against Vera Cruz but omitting all mention of Burr.
Subsequently he wrote a confidential letter about this "deep, dark, and
widespread conspiracy" which enmeshed all classes and conditions in New
Orleans and might bring seven thousand men from the Ohio. The contents
of Burr's mysterious letter were to be communicated orally to the
President by the messenger who bore this precious warning. It was on
the strength of these communications that the President issued his
proclamation of the 27th of November.

     * What is usually accepted as the correct version is printed
     by McCaleb in his "Aaron Burr Conspiracy," pp. 74 and 75,
     and by Henry Adams in his "History of the United States,"
     vol. III, pp. 253-4.

While Wilkinson was inditing these misleading missives to the President,
he was preparing the way for his entry at New Orleans. To the perplexed
and alarmed Governor he wrote: "You are surrounded by dangers of
which you dream not, and the destruction of the American Government is
seriously menaced. The storm will probably burst in New Orleans, where
I shall meet it, and triumph or perish!" Just five days later he wrote
a letter to the Viceroy of Mexico which proves him beyond doubt the
most contemptible rascal who ever wore an American uniform. "A storm, a
revolutionary tempest, an infernal plot threatens the destruction of the
empire," he wrote; the first object of attack would be New Orleans,
then Vera Cruz, then Mexico City; scenes of violence and pillage
would follow; let His Excellency be on his guard. To ward off these
calamities, "I will hurl myself like a Leonidas into the breach." But
let His Excellency remember what risks the writer of this letter incurs,
"by offering without orders this communication to a foreign power," and
let him reimburse the bearer of this letter to the amount of 121,000
pesos which will be spent to shatter the plans of these bandits from the

The arrival of Wilkinson in New Orleans was awaited by friends and foes,
with bated breath. The conspirators had as yet no intimation of his
intentions: Governor Claiborne was torn by suspicion of this would-be
savior, for at the very time he was reading Wilkinson's gasconade
he received a cryptic letter from Andrew Jackson which ran, "keep a
watchful eye on our General and beware of an attack as well from your
own country as Spain!" If Claiborne could not trust "our General," whom
could he trust!

The stage was now set for the last act in the drama. Wilkinson arrived
in the city, deliberately set Claiborne aside, and established a species
of martial law, not without opposition. To justify his course Wilkinson
swore to an affidavit based on Burr's letter of the 29th of July and
proceeded with his arbitrary arrests. One by one Burr's confederates
were taken into custody. The city was kept in a state of alarm; Burr's
armed thousands were said to be on the way; the negroes were to be
incited to revolt. Only the actual appearance of Burr's expedition or
some extraordinary happening could maintain this high pitch of popular
excitement and save Wilkinson from becoming the ridiculous victim of his
own folly.

On the 10th of January (1807), after an uneventful voyage down the
Mississippi, Burr's flotilla reached the mouth of Bayou Pierre, some
thirty miles above Natchez. Here at length was the huge armada which was
to shatter the Union--nine boats and sixty men! Tension began to give
way. People began to recover their sense of humor. Wilkinson was never
in greater danger in his life, for he was about to appear ridiculous.
It was at Bayou Pierre that Burr going ashore learned that Wilkinson had
betrayed him. His first instinct was to flee, for if he should proceed
to New Orleans he would fall into Wilkinson's hands and doubtless be
court-martialed and shot; but if he tarried, he would be arrested
and sent to Washington. Indecision and despair seized him; and while
Blennerhassett and other devoted followers waited for their emperor to
declare his intention, he found himself facing the acting-governor of
the Mississippi Territory with a warrant for his arrest. To the
chagrin of his fellow conspirators, Burr surrendered tamely, even

The end of the drama was near at hand. Burr was brought before a grand
jury, and though he once more escaped indictment, he was put under
bonds, quite illegally he thought, to appear when summoned. On the 1st
of February he abandoned his followers to the tender mercies of the law
and fled in disguise into the wilderness. A month later he was arrested
near the Spanish border above Mobile by Lieutenant Gaines, in command
at Fort Stoddert, and taken to Richmond. The trial that followed did not
prove Burr's guilt, but it did prove Thomas Jefferson's credulity and
cast grave doubts on James Wilkinson's loyalty.* Burr was acquitted
of the charge of treason in court, but he remained under popular
indictment, and his memory has never been wholly cleared of the
suspicion of treason.

     * An account of the trial of Burr will be found in "John
     Marshall and the Constitution" by Edward S. Corwin, in "The
     Chronicles of America".


While Captain Bainbridge was eating his heart out in the Pasha's prison
at Tripoli, his thoughts reverting constantly to his lost frigate, he
reminded Commodore Preble, with whom he was allowed to correspond,
that "the greater part of our crew consists of English subjects not
naturalized in America." This incidental remark comes with all the
force of a revelation to those who have fondly imagined that the sturdy
jack-tars who manned the first frigates were genuine American sea-dogs.
Still more disconcerting is the information contained in a letter from
the Secretary of the Treasury to President Jefferson, some years later,
to the effect that after 1803 American tonnage increased at the rate of
seventy thousand a year, but that of the four thousand seamen required
to man this growing mercantile marine, fully one-half were British
subjects, presumably deserters. How are these uncomfortable facts to
be explained? Let a third piece of information be added. In a report of
Admiral Nelson, dated 1803, in which he broaches a plan for manning
the British navy, it is soberly stated that forty-two thousand British
seamen deserted "in the late war." Whenever a large convoy assembled at
Portsmouth, added the Admiral, not less than a thousand seamen usually
deserted from the navy.

The slightest acquaintance with the British navy when Nelson was winning
immortal glory by his victory at Trafalgar must convince the most
sceptical that his seamen for the most part were little better than
galley slaves. Life on board these frigates was well-nigh unbearable.
The average life of a seaman, Nelson reckoned, was forty-five years. In
this age before processes of refrigeration had been invented, food could
not be kept edible on long voyages, even in merchantmen. Still worse
was the fare on men-of-war. The health of a crew was left to Providence.
Little or no forethought was exercised to prevent disease; the commonest
matters of personal hygiene were neglected; and when disease came
the remedies applied were scarcely to be preferred to the disease.
Discipline, always brutal, was symbolized by the cat-o'-nine-tails.
Small wonder that the navy was avoided like the plague by every man and

Yet a navy had to be maintained: it was the cornerstone of the Empire.
And in all the history of that Empire the need of a navy was never
stronger than in these opening years of the nineteenth century. The
practice of impressing able men for the royal navy was as old as the
reign of Elizabeth. The press gang was an odious institution of
long standing--a terror not only to rogue and vagabond but to every
able-bodied seafaring man and waterman on rivers, who was not exempted
by some special act. It ransacked the prisons, and carried to the navy
not only its victims but the germs of fever which infested public places
of detention. But the press gang harvested its greatest crop of seamen
on the seas. Merchantmen were stopped at sea, robbed of their able
sailors, and left to limp short-handed into port. A British East
Indiaman homeward bound in 1802 was stripped of so many of her crew in
the Bay of Biscay that she was unable to offer resistance to a French
privateer and fell a rich victim into the hands of the enemy. The
necessity of the royal navy knew no law and often defeated its own

Death or desertion offered the only way of escape to the victim of the
press gang. And the commander of a British frigate dreaded making port
almost as much as an epidemic of typhus. The deserter always found
American merchantmen ready to harbor him. Fair wages, relatively
comfortable quarters, and decent treatment made him quite ready to take
any measures to forswear his allegiance to Britannia. Naturalization
papers were easily procured by a few months' residence in any State
of the Union; and in default of legitimate papers, certificates of
citizenship could be bought for a song in any American seaport, where
shysters drove a thrifty traffic in bogus documents. Provided the
English navy took the precaution to have the description in his
certificate tally with his personal appearance, and did not let his
tongue betray him, he was reasonably safe from capture.

Facing the palpable fact that British seamen were deserting just when
they were most needed and were making American merchantmen and frigates
their asylum, the British naval commanders, with no very nice regard for
legal distinctions, extended their search for deserters to the decks of
American vessels, whether in British waters or on the high seas. If in
time of war, they reasoned, they could stop a neutral ship on the high
seas, search her for contraband of war, and condemn ship and cargo in a
prize court if carrying contraband, why might they not by the same token
search a vessel for British deserters and impress them into service
again? Two considerations seem to justify this reasoning: the trickiness
of the smart Yankees who forged citizenship papers, and the indelible
character of British allegiance. Once an Englishman always an
Englishman, by Jove! Your hound of a sea-dog might try to talk through
his nose like a Yankee, you know, and he might shove a dirty bit of
paper at you, but he couldn't shake off his British citizenship if he
wanted to! This was good English law, and if it wasn't recognized by
other nations so much the worse for them. As one of these redoubtable
British captains put it, years later: "'Might makes right' is the
guiding, practical maxim among nations and ever will be, so long as
powder and shot exist, with money to back them, and energy to wield
them." Of course, there were hair-splitting fellows, plenty of them, in
England and the States, who told you that it was one thing to seize a
vessel carrying contraband and have her condemned by judicial process in
a court of admiralty, and quite another thing to carry British subjects
off the decks of a merchantman flying a neutral flag; but if you knew
the blasted rascals were deserters what difference did it make? Besides,
what would become of the British navy, if you listened to all the
fine-spun arguments of landsmen? And if these stalwart blue-water
Britishers could have read what Thomas Jefferson was writing at this
very time, they would have classed him with the armchair critics who
had no proper conception of a sailor's duty. "I hold the right of
expatriation," wrote the President, "to be inherent in every man by the
laws of nature, and incapable of being rightfully taken away from him
even by the united will of every other person in the nation."

In the year 1805, while President Jefferson was still the victim of
his overmastering passion, and disposed to cultivate the good will of
England, if thereby he might obtain the Floridas, unforeseen commercial
complications arose which not only blocked the way to a better
understanding in Spanish affairs but strained diplomatic relations
to the breaking point. News reached Atlantic seaports that American
merchantmen, which had hitherto engaged with impunity in the carrying
trade between Europe and the West Indies, had been seized and condemned
in British admiralty courts. Every American shipmaster and owner at once
lifted up his voice in indignant protest; and all the latent hostility
to their old enemy revived. Here were new orders-in-council, said they:
the leopard cannot change his spots. England is still England--the
implacable enemy of neutral shipping. "Never will neutrals be perfectly
safe till free goods make free ships or till England loses two or three
great naval battles," declared the Salem Register.

The recent seizures were not made by orders-in-council, however, but in
accordance with a decision recently handed down by the court of appeals
in the case of the ship Essex. Following a practice which had become
common in recent years, the Essex had sailed with a cargo from Barcelona
to Salem and thence to Havana. On the high seas she had been captured,
and then taken to a British port, where ship and cargo were condemned
because the voyage from Spain to her colony had been virtually
continuous, and by the so-called Rule of 1756, direct trade between a
European state and its colony was forbidden to neutrals in time of war
when such trade had not been permitted in time of peace. Hitherto, the
British courts had inclined to the view that when goods had been landed
in a neutral country and duties paid, the voyage had been broken.
Tacitly a trade that was virtually direct had been countenanced, because
the payment of duties seemed evidence enough that the cargo became a
part of the stock of the neutral country and, if reshipped, was then a
bona fide neutral cargo. Suddenly English merchants and shippers woke
to the fact that they were often victims of deception. Cargoes would
be landed in the United States, duties ostensibly paid, and the goods
ostensibly imported, only to be reshipped in the same bottoms, with the
connivance of port officials, either without paying any real duties
or with drawbacks. In the case of the Essex the court of appeals cut
directly athwart these practices by going behind the prima facie payment
and inquiring into the intent of the voyage. The mere touching at a
port without actually importing the cargo into the common stock of the
country did not alter the nature of the voyage. The crucial point
was the intent, which the court was now and hereafter determined to
ascertain by examination of facts. The court reached the indubitable
conclusion that the cargo of the Essex had never been intended for
American markets. The open-minded historian must admit that this was
a fair application of the Rule of 1756, but he may still challenge the
validity of the rule, as all neutral countries did, and the wisdom of
the monopolistic impulse which moved the commercial classes and the
courts of England to this decision.*

     * Professor William E. Lingelbach in a notable article on
     "England and Neutral Trade" in "The Military Historian and
     Economist" (April, 1917) has pointed out the error committed
     by almost every historian from Henry Adams down, that the
     Essex decision reversed previous rulings of the court and
     was not in accord with British law.

Had the impressment of seamen and the spoliation of neutral commerce
occurred only on the high seas, public resentment would have mounted to
a high pitch in the United States; but when British cruisers ran into
American waters to capture or burn French vessels, and when British
men-of-war blockaded ports, detaining and searching--and at times
capturing--American vessels, indignation rose to fever heat. The
blockade of New York Harbor by two British frigates, the Cambrian and
the Leander, exasperated merchants beyond measure. On board the Leander
was a young midshipman, Basil Hall, who in after years described the
activities of this execrated frigate.

"Every morning at daybreak, we set about arresting the progress of all
the vessels we saw, firing of guns to the right and left to make every
ship that was running in heave to, or wait until we had leisure to send
a boat on board 'to see,¹ in our lingo, 'what she was made of.' I have
frequently known a dozen, and sometimes a couple of dozen, ships lying
a league or two off the port, losing their fair wind, their tide, and
worse than all their market, for many hours, sometimes the whole day,
before our search was completed."*

     * "Fragments of Voyages and Travels," quoted by Henry Adams,
     in "History of the United States", vol. III, p. 92.

One day in April, 1806, the Leander, trying to halt a merchantman that
she meant to search, fired a shot which killed the helmsman of a passing
sloop. The boat sailed on to New York with the mangled body; and the
captain, brother of the murdered man, lashed the populace into a rage
by his mad words. Supplies for the frigates were intercepted, personal
violence was threatened to any British officers caught on shore, the
captain of the Leander was indicted for murder, and the funeral of the
murdered sailor was turned into a public demonstration. Yet nothing came
of this incident, beyond a proclamation by the President closing the
ports of the United States to the offending frigates and ordering the
arrest of the captain of the Leander wherever found. After all, the
death of a common seaman did not fire the hearts of farmers peacefully
tilling their fields far beyond hearing of the Leander's guns.

A year full of troublesome happenings passed; scores of American vessels
were condemned in British admiralty courts, and American seamen were
impressed with increasing frequency, until in the early summer of 1807
these manifold grievances culminated in an outrage that shook even
Jefferson out of his composure and evoked a passionate outcry for war
from all parts of the country.

While a number of British war vessels were lying in Hampton Roads
watching for certain French frigates which had taken refuge up
Chesapeake Bay, they lost a number of seamen by desertion under
peculiarly annoying circumstances. In one instance a whole boat's crew
made off under cover of night to Norfolk and there publicly defied
their commander. Three deserters from the British frigate Melampus had
enlisted on the American frigate Chesapeake, which had just been fitted
out for service in the Mediterranean; but on inquiry these three were
proven to be native Americans who had been impressed into British
service. Unfortunately inquiry did disclose one British deserter who
had enlisted on the Chesapeake, a loud-mouthed tar by the name of Jenkin
Ratford. These irritating facts stirred Admiral Berkeley at Halifax
to highhanded measures. Without waiting for instructions, he issued an
order to all commanders in the North Atlantic Squadron to search the
Chesapeake for deserters, if she should be encountered on the high seas.
This order of the 1st of June should be shown to the captain of the
Chesapeake as sufficient authority for searching her.

On June 22, 1807, the Chesapeake passed unsuspecting between the capes
on her way to the Mediterranean. She was a stanch frigate carrying
forty guns and a crew of 375 men and boys; but she was at this time in
a distressing state of unreadiness, owing to the dilatoriness and
incompetence of the naval authorities at Washington. The gundeck was
littered with lumber and odds and ends of rigging; the guns, though
loaded, were not all fitted to their carriages; and the crew was
untrained. As the guns had to be fired by slow matches or by loggerheads
heated red-hot, and the ammunition was stored in the magazine, the
frigate was totally unprepared for action. Commodore Barron, who
commanded the Chesapeake, counted on putting her into fighting trim on
the long voyage across the Atlantic.

Just ahead of the Chesapeake as she passed out to sea, was the Leopard,
a British frigate of fifty-two guns, which was apparently on the lookout
for suspicious merchantmen. It was not until both vessels were eight
miles or more southeast of Cape Henry that the movements of the Leopard
began to attract attention. At about half-past three in the afternoon
she came within hailing distance and hove to, announcing that she had
dispatches for the commander. The Chesapeake also hove to and answered
the hail, a risky move considering that she was unprepared for action
and that the Leopard lay to the windward. But why should the commander
of the American frigate have entertained suspicions?

A boat put out from the Leopard, bearing a petty officer, who delivered
a note enclosing Admiral Berkeley's order and expressing the hope that
"every circumstance... may be adjusted in a manner that the harmony
subsisting between the two countries may remain undisturbed." Commodore
Barron replied that he knew of no British deserters on his vessel and
declined in courteous terms to permit his crew to be mustered by any
other officers but their own. The messenger departed, and then, for the
first time entertaining serious misgivings, Commodore Barron ordered his
decks cleared for action. But before the crew could bestir themselves,
the Leopard drew near, her men at quarters. The British commander
shouted a warning, but Barron, now thoroughly alarmed, replied, "I don't
hear what you say." The warning was repeated, but again Barron to gain
time shouted that he could not hear. The Leopard then fired two shots
across the bow of the Chesapeake, and almost immediately without
parleying further--she was now within two hundred feet of her
victim--poured a broadside into the American vessel.

Confusion reigned on the Chesapeake. The crew for the most part showed
courage, but they were helpless, for they could not fire a gun for
want of slow matches or loggerheads. They crowded about the magazine
clamoring in vain for a chance to defend the vessel; they yelled with
rage at their predicament. Only one gun was discharged and that was by
means of a live coal brought up from the galley after the Chesapeake had
received a third broadside and Commodore Barron had ordered the flag to
be hauled down to spare further slaughter. Three of his crew had already
been killed and eighteen wounded, himself among the number. The whole
action lasted only fifteen minutes.

Boarding crews now approached and several British officers climbed
to the deck of the Chesapeake and mustered her crew. Among the ship's
company they found the alleged deserters and, hiding in the coal-hole,
the notorious Jenkin Ratford. These four men they took with them,
and the Leopard, having fulfilled her instructions, now suffered the
Chesapeake to limp back to Hampton Roads. "For the first time in their
history," writes Henry Adams, * "the people of the United States learned,
in June, 1807, the feeling of a true national emotion. Hitherto every
public passion had been more or less partial and one-sided;... but the
outrage committed on the Chesapeake stung through hidebound prejudices,
and made democrat and aristocrat writhe alike."

     * History of the United States, vol. IV, p. 27.

Had President Jefferson chosen to go to war at this moment, he would
have had a united people behind him, and he was well aware that he
possessed the power of choice. "The affair of the Chesapeake put war
into my hand," he wrote some years later. "I had only to open it and
let havoc loose." But Thomas Jefferson was not a martial character. The
State Governors, to be sure, were requested to have their militia
in readiness, and the Governor of Virginia was desired to call such
companies into service as were needed for the defense of Norfolk.
The President referred in indignant terms to the abuse of the laws of
hospitality and the "outrage" committed by the British commander; but
his proclamation only ordered all British armed vessels out of American
waters and forbade all intercourse with them if they remained. The
tone of the proclamation was so moderate as to seem pusillanimous. John
Randolph called it an apology. Thomas Jefferson did not mean to have
war. With that extraordinary confidence in his own powers, which in
smaller men would be called smug conceit, he believed that he could
secure disavowal and honorable reparation for the wrong committed; but
he chose a frail intermediary when he committed this delicate mission to
James Monroe.


It is one of the strange paradoxes of our time that the author of the
Declaration of Independence, to whose principle of self-determination
the world seems again to be turning, should now be regarded as a
self-confessed pacifist, with all the derogatory implications that lurk
in that epithet. The circumstances which made him a revolutionist
in 1776 and a passionate advocate of peace in 1807 deserve some
consideration. The charge made by contemporaries of Jefferson that his
aversion to war sprang from personal cowardice may be dismissed at once,
as it was by him, with contempt. Nor was his hatred of war merely an
instinctive abhorrence of bloodshed. He had not hesitated to wage naval
war on the Barbary Corsairs. It is true that he was temperamentally
averse to the use of force under ordinary circumstances. He did not
belong to that type of full-blooded men who find self-expression in
adventurous activity. Mere physical effort without conscious purpose
never appealed to him. He was at the opposite pole of life from a man
like Aaron Burr. He never, so far as history records, had an affair
of honor; he never fought a duel; he never performed active military
service; he never took human life. Yet he was not a non-resistant. "My
hope of preserving peace for our country," he wrote on one occasion, "is
not founded in the Quaker principle of nonresistance under every wrong."

The true sources of Jefferson's pacifism must be sought in his
rationalistic philosophy, which accorded the widest scope to the
principle of self-direction and self determination, whether on the part
of the individual or of groups of individuals. To impose one's will upon
another was to enslave, according to his notion; to coerce by war was
to enslave a community; and to enslave a community was to provoke
revolution. Jefferson's thought gravitated inevitably to the center of
his rational universe--to the principle of enlightened self-interest.
Men and women are not to be permanently moved by force but by appeals
to their interests. He completed his thought as follows in the letter
already quoted: "But [my hope of preserving peace is founded] in the
belief that a just and friendly conduct on our part will procure
justice and friendship from others. In the existing contest, each of the
combatants will find an interest in our friendship."

It was a chaotic world in which this philosopher-statesman was called
upon to act--a world in which international law and neutral rights had
been well-nigh submerged in twelve years of almost continuous war. Yet
with amazing self-assurance President Jefferson believed that he held in
his hand a master-key which would unlock all doors that had been shut
to the commerce of neutrals. He called this master-key "peaceable
coercion," and he explained its magic potency in this wise:

"Our commerce is so valuable to them [the European belligerents] that
they will be glad to purchase it when the only price we ask is to do
us justice. I believe that we have in our hands the means of peaceable
coercion; and that the moment they see our government so united as that
they can make use of it, they will for their own interest be disposed to
do us justice."

The idea of using commercial restrictions as a weapon to secure
recognition of rights was of course not original with Jefferson, but
it was now to be given a trial without parallel in the history of
the nation. Non-importation agreements had proved efficacious in
the struggle of the colonies with the mother country; it seemed not
unreasonable to suppose that a well-sustained refusal to traffic in
English goods would meet the emergency of 1807, when the ruling of
British admiralty courts threatened to cut off the lucrative commerce
between Europe and the West Indies. With this theory in view, the
President and his Secretary of State advocated the NonImportation Bill
of April 18, 1806, which forbade the entry of certain specified goods of
British manufacture. The opposition found a leader in Randolph, who now
broke once and for all with the Administration. "Never in the course of
my life," he exclaimed, "have I witnessed such a scene of indignity and
inefficiency as this measure holds forth to the world. What is it? A
milk-and-water bill! A dose of chicken-broth to be taken nine months
hence!... It is too contemptible to be the object of consideration,
or to excite the feelings of the pettiest state in Europe." The
Administration carried the bill through Congress, but Randolph had
the satisfaction of seeing his characterisation of the measure amply
justified by the course of events.

With the Non-Importation Act as a weapon, the President was confident
that Monroe, who had once more returned to his post in London, could
force a settlement of all outstanding differences with Great Britain. To
his annoyance, and to Monroe's chagrin, however, he was obliged to send
a special envoy to act with Monroe. Factious opposition in the Senate
forced the President to placate the Federalists by appointing William
Pinkney of Maryland. The American commissioners were instructed
to insist upon three concessions in the treaty which they were to
negotiate: restoration of trade with enemies' colonies, indemnity for
captures made since the Essex decision, and express repudiation of the
right of impressment. In return for these concessions, they might hold
out the possible repeal of the Non-Importation Act! Only confirmed
optimists could believe that the mistress of the seas, flushed with the
victory of Trafalgar, would consent to yield these points for so slight
a compensation. The mission was, indeed, doomed from the outset, and
nothing more need be said of it than that in the end, to secure any
treaty at all, Monroe and Pinkney broke their instructions and set aside
the three ultimata. What they obtained in return seemed so insignificant
and doubtful, and what they paid for even these slender compensations
seemed so exorbitant, that the President would not even submit the
treaty to the Senate. The first application of the theory of peaceable
coercion thus ended in humiliating failure. Jefferson thought it best
"to let the negotiation take a friendly nap"; but Madison, who felt
that his political future depended on a diplomatic triumph over England,
drafted new instructions for the two commissioners, hoping that the
treaty might yet be put into acceptable form. It was while these new
instructions were crossing the ocean that the Chesapeake struck her

James Monroe is one of the most unlucky diplomats in American history.
From those early days when he had received the fraternal embraces of the
Jacobins in Paris and had been recalled by President Washington, to the
ill-fated Spanish mission, circumstances seem to have conspired against
him. The honor of negotiating the purchase of Louisiana should have been
his alone, but he arrived just a day too late and was obliged to
divide the glory with Livingston. On this mission to England he was not
permitted to conduct negotiations alone but was associated with William
Pinkney, a Federalist. No wonder he suspected Madison, or at least
Madison's friends, of wishing to discredit him. And now another
impossible task was laid upon him. He was instructed to demand not
only disavowal and reparation for the attack on the Chesapeake and the
restoration of the American seamen, but also as "an indispensable part
of the satisfaction" "an entire abolition of impressments." If the
Secretary of State had deliberately contrived to deliver Monroe into
the hands of George Canning, he could not have been more successful, for
Monroe had already protested against the Chesapeake outrage as an act of
aggression which should be promptly disavowed without reference to the
larger question of impressment. He was now obliged to eat his own
words and inject into the discussion, as Canning put it, the irrelevant
matters which they had agreed to separate from the present controversy.
Canning was quick to see his opportunity. Mr. Monroe must be aware, said
he, that on several recent occasions His Majesty had firmly declined to
waive "the ancient and prescriptive usages of Great Britain, founded on
the soundest principles of natural law," simply because they might come
in contact with the interests or the feelings of the American people. If
Mr. Monroe's instructions left him powerless to adjust this regrettable
incident of the Leopard and the Chesapeake, without raising the other
question of the right of search and impressment, then His Majesty
could only send a special envoy to the United States to terminate the
controversy in a manner satisfactory to both countries. "But," added
Canning with sarcasm which was not lost on Monroe, "in order to avoid
the inconvenience which has arisen from the mixed nature of your
instructions, that minister will not be empowered to entertain... any
proposition respecting the search of merchant vessels."

One more humiliating experience was reserved for Monroe before his
diplomatic career closed. Following Madison's new set of instructions,
he and Pinkney attempted to reopen negotiations for the revision of the
discredited treaty of the preceding year. But Canning had reasons of his
own for wishing to be rid of a treaty which had been drawn by the late
Whig Ministry. He informed the American commissioners arrogantly that
"the proposal of the President of the United States for proceeding to
negotiate anew upon the basis of a treaty already solemnly concluded and
signed, is a proposal wholly inadmissible." His Majesty could therefore
only acquiesce in the refusal of the President to ratify the treaty. One
week later, James Monroe departed from London, never again to set foot
on British soil, leaving Pinkney to assume the duties of Minister at
the Court of St. James. For the second time Monroe returned to his own
country discredited by the President who had appointed him. In both
instances he felt himself the victim of injustice. In spite of his
friendship for Jefferson, he was embittered against the Administration
and in this mood lent himself all too readily to the schemes of John
Randolph, who had already picked him as the one candidate who could beat
Madison in the next presidential election.

From the point of view of George Canning and the Tory squirearchy whose
mouthpiece he was, the Chesapeake affair was but an incident--an unhappy
incident, to be sure, but still only an incident--in the world-wide
struggle with Napoleon. What was at stake was nothing less than
the commercial supremacy of Great Britain. The astounding growth of
Napoleon's empire was a standing menace to British trade. The overthrow
of Prussia in the fall of 1806 left the Corsican in control of Central
Europe and in a position to deal his long premeditated blow. A fortnight
after the battle of Jena, he entered Berlin and there issued the famous
decree which was his answer to the British blockade of the French
channel ports. Since England does not recognize the system of
international law universally observed by all civilized nations--so the
preamble read--but by a monstrous abuse of the right of blockade has
determined to destroy neutral trade and to raise her commerce and
industry upon the ruins of that of the continent, and since "whoever
deals on the continent in English goods thereby favors and renders
himself an accomplice of her designs," therefore the British Isles are
declared to be in a state of blockade. Henceforth all English goods were
to be lawful prize in any territory held by the troops of France or
her allies; and all vessels which had come from English ports or from
English colonies were to be confiscated, together with their cargoes.
This challenge was too much for the moral equilibrium of the squires,
the shipowners, and the merchants who dominated Parliament. It dulled
their sense of justice and made them impatient under the pinpricks which
came from the United States. "A few short months of war," declared the
Morning Post truculently, "would convince these desperate [American]
politicians of the folly of measuring the strength of a rising, but
still infant and puny, nation with the colossal power of the British
Empire." "Right," said the Times, another organ of the Tory Government,
"is power sanctioned by usage." Concession to Americans at this crisis
was not to be entertained for a moment, for after all, said the Times,
they "possess all the vices of their Indian neighbors without their

In this temper the British Government was prepared to ignore the United
States and deal Napoleon blow for blow. An order-in-council of January
7, 1807, asserted the right of retaliation and declared that "no vessel
shall be permitted to trade from one port to another, both which ports
shall belong to, or be in possession of France or her allies." The
peculiar hardship of this order for American shipowners is revealed
by the papers of Stephen Girard of Philadelphia, whose shrewdness and
enterprise were making him one of the merchant princes of his time. One
of his ships, the Liberty, of some 250 tons, was sent to Lisbon with a
cargo of 2052 barrels and 220 half-barrels of flour which cost the
owner $10.68 a barrel. Her captain, on entering port, learned that flour
commanded a better price at Cadiz. To Cadiz, accordingly, he set sail
and sold his cargo for $22.50 a barrel, winning for the owner a goodly
profit of $25,000, less commission. It was such trading ventures as this
that the British order-in-council doomed.

What American shipmasters had now to fear from both belligerents was
made startlingly clear by the fate of the ship Horizon, which had sailed
from Charleston, South Carolina, with a cargo for Zanzibar. On the way
she touched at various South American ports and disposed of most of
her cargo. Then changing her destination, and taking on a cargo for the
English market, she set sail for London. On the way she was forced to
put in at Lisbon to refit. As she left to resume her voyage she
was seized by an English frigate and brought in as a fair prize,
since--according to the Rule of 1756--she had been apprehended in an
illegal traffic between an enemy country and its colony. The British
prize court condemned the cargo but released the ship. The unlucky
Horizon then loaded with an English cargo and sailed again to Lisbon,
but misfortune overtook her and she was wrecked off the French coast.
Her cargo was salvaged, however, and what was not of English origin was
restored to her owners by decree of a French prize court; the rest of
her cargo was confiscated under the terms of the Berlin decree. When the
American Minister protested at this decision, he was told that "since
America suffers her ships to be searched, she adopts the principle
that the flag does not cover the goods. Since she recognizes the absurd
blockades laid by England, consents to having her vessels incessantly
stopped, sent to England, and so turned aside from their course, why
should the Americans not suffer the blockade laid by France? Certainly
France recognizes that these measures are unjust, illegal, and
subversive of national sovereignty; but it is the duty of nations to
resort to force, and to declare themselves against things which dishonor
them and disgrace their independence." * But an invitation to enter the
European maelstrom and battle for neutral rights made no impression upon
the mild-tempered President.

     * Henry Adams, History of the United States, IV, p. 110.

It is as clear as day that the British Government was now determined,
under pretense of retaliating upon France, to promote British trade with
the continent by every means and at the expense of neutrals. Another
order-in-council, November 17, 1807, closed to neutrals all European
ports under French control, "as if the same were actually blockaded,"
but permitted vessels which first entered a British port and obtained a
British license to sail to any continental port. It was an order which,
as Henry Adams has said, could have but one purpose--to make American
commerce English. This was precisely the contemporary opinion of the
historian's grandfather, who declared that the "orders-in-council, if
submitted to, would have degraded us to the condition of colonists."

Only one more blow was needed, it would seem, to complete the ruin of
American commerce. It fell a month later, when Napoleon, having overrun
the Spanish peninsula and occupied Portugal, issued his Milan decree of
December 17, 1807. Henceforth any vessel which submitted to search
by English cruisers, or paid any tonnage duty or tax to the English
Government, or sailed to or from any English port, would be captured and
condemned as lawful prize. Such was to be the maritime code of France
"until England should return to the principles of international law
which are also those of justice and honor."

Never was a commercial nation less prepared to defend itself against
depredations than the United States of America in this year 1807. For
this unpreparedness many must bear the blame, but President Jefferson
has become the scapegoat. This Virginia farmer and landsman was not
only ignorant and distrustful of all the implements of war, but utterly
unfamiliar with the ways of the sea and with the first principles of
sea-power. The Tripolitan War seems to have inspired him with a single
fixed idea--that for defensive purposes gunboats were superior to
frigates and less costly. He set forth this idea in a special message
to Congress (February 10, 1807), claiming to have the support of
"professional men," among whom he mentioned Generals Wilkinson and
Gates! He proposed the construction of two hundred of these gunboats,
which would be distributed among the various exposed harbors, where
in time of peace they would be hauled up on shore under sheds, for
protection against sun and storm. As emergency arose these floating
batteries were to be manned by the seamen and militia of the port.
What appealed particularly to the President in this programme was the
immunity it offered from "an excitement to engage in offensive maritime
war." Gallatin would have modified even this plan for economy's sake.
He would have constructed only one-half of the proposed fleet since the
large seaports could probably build thirty gunboats in as many days, if
an emergency arose. In extenuation of Gallatin's shortsightedness, it
should be remembered that he was a native of Switzerland, whose navy
has never ploughed many seas. It is less easy to excuse the rest of the
President's advisers and the Congress which was beguiled into accepting
this naive project. Nor did the Chesapeake outrage teach either Congress
or the Administration a salutary lesson. On the contrary, when in
October the news of the bombardment of Copenhagen had shattered the
nerves of statesmen in all neutral countries, and while the differences
with England were still unsettled, Jefferson and his colleagues decided
to hold four of the best frigates in port and use them "as receptacles
for enlisting seamen to fill the gunboats occasionally." Whom the gods
would punish they first make mad!

The 17th of December was a memorable day in the annals of this
Administration. Favorable tradewinds had brought into American ports a
number of packets with news from Europe. The Revenge had arrived in
New York with Armstrong's dispatches announcing Napoleon's purpose to
enforce the Berlin decree; the Edward had reached Boston with British
newspapers forecasting the order-in-council of the 11th of November.
This news burst like a bomb in Washington where the genial President
was observing with scientific detachment the operation of his policy of
commercial coercion. The Non-Importation Act had just gone into effect.
Jefferson immediately called his Cabinet together. All were of one mind.
The impending order-in-council, it was agreed, left but one alternative.
Commerce must be totally suspended until the full scope of these new
aggressions could be ascertained. The President took a loose sheet of
paper and drafted hastily a message to Congress, recommending an embargo
in anticipation of the offensive British order. But the prudent Madison
urged that it was better not to refer explicitly to the order and
proposed a substitute which simply recommended "an immediate inhibition
of the departure of our vessels from the ports of the United States,"
on the ground that shipping was likely to be exposed to greater dangers.
Only Gallatin demurred: he would have preferred an embargo for a
limited time. "I prefer war to a permanent embargo," he wrote next
day. "Government prohibitions," he added significantly, "do always more
mischief than had been calculated." But Gallatin was overruled and the
message, in Madison's form, was sent to Congress on the following day.
The Senate immediately passed the desired bill through three readings
in a single day; the House confirmed this action after only two days
of debate; and on the 22d of December, the President signed the Embargo

What was this measure which was passed by Congress almost without
discussion? Ostensibly it was an act for the protection of American
ships, merchandise, and seamen. It forbade the departure of all ships
for foreign ports, except vessels under the immediate direction of the
President and vessels in ballast or already loaded with goods. Foreign
armed vessels were exempted also as a matter of course. Coasting ships
were to give bonds double the value of vessel and cargo to reland their
freight in some port of the United States. Historians have discovered
a degree of duplicity in the alleged motives for this act. How, it is
asked, could protection of ships and seamen be the motive when all of
Jefferson's private letters disclose his determination to put his theory
of peaceable coercion to a practical test by this measure? The criticism
is not altogether fair, for, as Jefferson would himself have
replied, peaceable coercion was designed to force the withdrawal of
orders-in-council and decrees that menaced the safety of ships and
cargoes. The policy might entail some incidental hardships, to be sure,
but the end in view was protection of American lives and property.
Madison was not quite candid, nevertheless, when he assured the British
Minister that the embargo was a precautionary measure only and not
conceived with hostile intent.

Chimerical this policy seemed to many contemporaries; chimerical it has
seemed to historians, and to us who have passed through the World
War. Yet in the World War it was the possession of food stuffs and raw
materials by the United States which gave her a dominating position in
the councils of the Allies. Had her commerce in 1807 been as necessary
to England and France as it was "at the very peak" of the World War,
Thomas Jefferson might have proved that peaceable coercion is an
effective alternative to war; but he overestimated the magnitude and
importance of the carrying trade of the United States, and erred still
more grievously in assuming that a public conscience existed which would
prove superior to the temptation to evade the law. Jefferson dreaded war
quite as much because of its concomitants as because of its inevitable
brutality, quite as much because it tended to exalt government and to
produce corruption as because it maimed bodies and sacrificed human
lives. Yet he never took fully into account the possible accompaniments
of his alternative to war. That the embargo would debauch public morals
and make government arbitrary, he was to learn only by bitter experience
and personal humiliation.

Just after the passage of this momentous act, Canning's special envoy,
George Rose, arrived in the United States. A British diplomat of the
better sort, with much dignity of manner and suave courtesy, he was
received with more than ordinary consideration by the Administration.
He was commissioned, every one supposed, to offer reparation for
the Chesapeake affair. Even after he had notified Madison that his
instructions bade him insist, as an indispensable preliminary, on the
recall of the President's Chesapeake proclamation, he was treated with
deference and assured that the President was prepared to comply, if he
could do so without incurring the charge of inconsistency and disregard
of national honor. Madison proposed to put a proclamation of recall in
Rose's hands, duly signed by the President and dated so as to correspond
with the day on which all differences should be adjusted. Rose consented
to this course and the proclamation was delivered into his hands. He
then divulged little by little his further instructions, which were such
as no self-respecting administration could listen to with composure.
Canning demanded a formal disavowal of Commodore Barron's conduct in
encouraging deserters from His Majesty's service and harboring them on
board his ship. "You will state," read Rose's instructions, "that
such disavowals, solemnly expressed, would afford to His Majesty a
satisfactory pledge on the part of the American Government that the
recurrence of similar causes will not on any occasion impose on His
Majesty the necessity of authorizing those means of force to which
Admiral Berkeley has resorted without authority, but which the continued
repetition of such provocations as unfortunately led to the attack upon
the Chesapeake might render necessary, as a just reprisal on the part
of His Majesty." No doubt Rose did his best to soften the tone of these
instructions, but he could not fail to make them clear; and Madison, who
had conducted these informal interviews, slowly awoke to the real nature
of what he was asked to do. He closed further negotiations with the
comment that the United States could not be expected "to make, as it
were, an expiatory sacrifice to obtain redress, or beg for reparation."
The Administration determined to let the disavowal of Berkeley suffice
for the present and to allow the matter of reparation to await further
developments. The coercive policy on which the Administration had
now launched would, it was confidently believed, bring His Majesty's
Government to terms.

The very suggestion of an embargo had an unexpected effect upon American
shipmasters. To avoid being shut up in port, fleets of ships put out to
sea half-manned, half-laden, and often without clearance papers. With
freight rates soaring to unheard-of altitudes, ship-owners were willing
to assume all the risks of the sea--British frigates included. So little
did they appreciate the protection offered by a benevolent government
that they assumed an attitude of hostility to authority and evaded the
exactions of the law in every conceivable way. Under guise of engaging
in the coasting trade, many a ship landed her cargo in a foreign port;
a brisk traffic also sprang up across the Canadian border; and Amelia
Island in St. Mary's River, Florida, became a notorious mart for illicit
commerce. Almost at once Congress was forced to pass supplementary acts,
conferring upon collectors of ports powers of inspection and regulation
which Gallatin unhesitatingly pronounced both odious and dangerous. The
President affixed his signature ruefully to acts which increased
the army, multiplied the number of gunboats under construction, and
appropriated a million and a quarter dollars to the construction of
coast defenses and the equipment of militia. "This embargo act," he
confessed, "is certainly the most embarrassing we ever had to execute.
I did not expect a crop of so sudden and rank growth of fraud and open
opposition by force could have grown up in the United States."

The worst feature of the experiment was its ineffectiveness. The
inhibition of commerce had so slight an effect upon England that when
Pinkney approached Canning with the proposal of a quid pro quo--the
United States to rescind the embargo, England to revoke her
orders-in-council--he was told with biting sarcasm that "if it were
possible to make any sacrifice for the repeal of the embargo without
appearing to deprecate it as a measure of hostility, he would gladly
UPON THE AMERICAN PEOPLE." By licensing American vessels, indeed,
which had either slipped out of port before the embargo or evaded the
collectors, the British Government was even profiting by this measure of
restriction. It was these vagrant vessels which gave Napoleon his excuse
for the Bayonne decree of April 17, 1808, when with a stroke of the pen
he ordered the seizure of all American ships in French ports and
swept property to the value of ten million dollars into the imperial
exchequer. Since these vessels were abroad in violation of the embargo,
he argued, they could not be American craft but must be British ships in
disguise. General Armstrong, writing from Paris, warned the Secretary of
State not to expect that the embargo would do more than keep the United
States at peace with the belligerents. As a coercive measure, its effect
was nil. "Here it is not felt, and in England... it is forgotten."

Before the end of the year the failure of the embargo was patent to
every fair-minded observer. Men might differ ever so much as to the harm
wrought by the embargo abroad; but all agreed that it was not bringing
either France or England to terms, and that it was working real hardship
at home. Federalists in New England, where nearly one-third of the ships
in the carrying trade were owned, pointed to the schooners "rotting
at their wharves," to the empty shipyards and warehouses, to the idle
sailors wandering in the streets of port towns, and asked passionately
how long they must be sacrificed to the theories of this charlatan in
the White House. Even Southern Republicans were asking uneasily when the
President would realize that the embargo was ruining planters who could
not market their cotton and tobacco. And Republicans whose pockets were
not touched were soberly questioning whether a policy that reduced the
annual value of exports from $108,000,000 to $22,000,000, and cut the
national revenue in half, had not been tested long enough.

Indications multiplied that "the dictatorship of Mr. Jefferson" was
drawing to a close. In 1808, after the election of Madison as his
successor, he practically abdicated as leader of his party, partly out
of an honest conviction that he ought not to commit the President-elect
by any positive course of action, and partly no doubt out of a less
praiseworthy desire not to admit the defeat of his cherished principle.
His abdication left the party without resolute leadership at a critical
moment. Madison and Gallatin tried to persuade their party associates
to continue the embargo until June, and then, if concessions were
not forthcoming, to declare war; but they were powerless to hold the
Republican majority together on this programme. Setting aside the
embargo and returning to the earlier policy of non-intercourse, Congress
adopted a measure which excluded all English and French vessels and
imports, but which authorized the President to renew trade with
either country if it should mend its ways. On March 1, 1809, with much
bitterness of spirit, Thomas Jefferson signed the bill which ended his
great experiment. Martha Jefferson once said of her father that he
never gave up a friend or an opinion. A few months before his death, he
alluded to the embargo, with the pathetic insistence of old age, as "a
measure, which, persevered in a little longer... would have effected its
object completely."


Three days after Jefferson gave his consent to the repeal of the
embargo, the Presidency passed in succession to the second of the
Virginia Dynasty. It was not an impressive figure that stood beside
Jefferson and faced the great crowd gathered in the new Hall of
Representatives at the Capitol. James Madison was a pale, extremely
nervous, and obviously unhappy person on this occasion. For a masterful
character this would have been the day of days; for Madison it was a
fearful ordeal which sapped every ounce of energy. He trembled violently
as he began to speak and his voice was almost inaudible. Those who could
not hear him but who afterward read the Inaugural Address doubtless
comforted themselves with the reflection that they had not missed much.
The new President, indeed, had nothing new to say--no new policy to
advocate. He could only repeat the old platitudes about preferring
"amicable discussion and reasonable accommodation of differences to a
decision of them by an appeal to arms." Evidently, no strong assertion
of national rights was to be expected from this plain, homespun

At the Inaugural Ball, however, people forgot their President in
admiration of the President's wife, Dolly Madison. "She looked a queen,"
wrote Mrs. Margaret Bayard Smith. "She had on a pale buff-colored
velvet, made plain, with a very long train, but not the least trimming,
and beautiful pearl necklace, earrings, and bracelets. Her head dress
was a turban of the same colored velvet and white satin (from Paris)
with two superb plumes, the bird of paradise feathers. It would be
ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE for any one to behave with more perfect propriety
than she did. Unassuming dignity, sweetness, grace. Mr. Madison, on the
contrary," continued this same warm-hearted observer, "seemed spiritless
and exhausted. While he was standing by me, I said, 'I wish with all my
heart I had a little bit of seat to offer you.' 'I wish so too,' said
he, with a most woebegone face, and looking as if he could hardly stand.
The managers came up to ask him to stay to supper, he assented, and
turning to me, 'but I would much rather be in bed,' he said." Quite
different was Mr. Jefferson on this occasion. He seemed to be in high
spirits and "his countenance beamed with a benevolent joy." It seemed to
this ardent admirer that "every demonstration of respect to Mr. M.
gave Mr. J. more pleasure than if paid to himself." No wonder that
Mr. Jefferson was in good spirits. Was he not now free from all the
anxieties and worries of politics? Already he was counting on retiring
"to the elysium of domestic affections and the irresponsible direction"
of his own affairs. A week later he set out for Monticello on horseback,
never again to set foot in the city which had witnessed his triumph and
his humiliation.

The election of Madison had disclosed wide rifts in his party. Monroe
had lent himself to the designs of John Randolph and had entered the
list of candidates for the Presidency; and Vice-President Clinton had
also been put forward by other malcontents. It was this division in the
ranks of the opposition which in the end had insured Madison's election;
but factional differences pursued Madison into the White House. Even
in the choice of his official family he was forced to consider the
preferences of politicians whom he despised, for when he would have
appointed Gallatin Secretary of State, he found Giles of Virginia and
Samuel Smith of Maryland bent upon defeating the nomination. The Smith
faction was, indeed, too influential to be ignored; with a wry face
Madison stooped to a bargain which left Gallatin at the head of the
Treasury but which saddled his Administration with Robert Smith, who
proved to be quite unequal to the exacting duties of the Department of

The Administration began with what appeared to be a great diplomatic
triumph. In April the President issued a proclamation announcing that
the British orders-in-council would be withdrawn on the 10th of June,
after which date commerce with Great Britain might be renewed. In the
newspapers appeared, with this welcome proclamation, a note drafted
by the British Minister Erskine expressing the confident hope that all
differences between the two countries would be adjusted by a special
envoy whom His Majesty had determined to send to the United States.
The Republican press was jubilant. At last the sage of Monticello was
vindicated. "It may be boldly alleged," said the National Intelligencer,
"that the revocation of the British orders is attributable to the

Forgotten now were all the grievances against Great Britain. Every
shipping port awoke to new life. Merchants hastened to consign the
merchandise long stored in their warehouses; shipmasters sent out
runners for crews; and ships were soon winging their way out into
the open sea. For three months American vessels crossed the ocean
unmolested, and then came the bitter, the incomprehensible news that
Erskine's arrangement had been repudiated and the over-zealous diplomat
recalled. The one brief moment of triumph in Madison's administration
had passed.

Slowly and painfully the public learned the truth. Erskine had exceeded
his instructions. Canning had not been averse to concessions, it is
true, but he had named as an indispensable condition of any concession
that the United States should bind itself to exclude French ships of war
from its ports. Instead of holding to the letter of his instructions,
Erskine had allowed himself to be governed by the spirit of concession
and had ignored the essential prerequisite. Nothing remained but to
renew the NonIntercourse Act against Great Britain. This the President
did by proclamation on August 9, 1809, and the country settled back
sullenly into commercial inactivity.

Another scarcely less futile chapter in diplomacy began with the arrival
of Francis James Jackson as British Minister in September. Those who
knew this Briton were justified in concluding that conciliation had no
important place in the programme of the Foreign Office, for it was he
who, two years before, had conducted those negotiations with Denmark
which culminated in the bombardment and destruction of Copenhagen. "It
is rather a prevailing notion here," wrote Pinkney from London, "that
this gentleman's conduct will not and cannot be what we all wish." And
this impression was so fully shared by Madison that he would not hasten
his departure from Montpelier but left Jackson to his own devices at the
capital for a full month.

This interval of enforced inactivity had one unhappy consequence. Not
finding employment for all his idle hours, Jackson set himself to
read the correspondence of his predecessor, and from it he drew the
conclusion that Erskine was a greater fool than he had thought possible,
and that the American Government had been allowed to use language of
which "every third word was a declaration of war." The further he read
the greater his ire, so that when the President arrived in Washington
(October 1), Jackson was fully resolved to let the American Government
know what was due to a British Minister who had had audiences "with most
of the sovereigns of Europe."

Though neither the President nor Gallatin, to whose mature judgment he
constantly turned, believed that Jackson had any proposals to make, they
were willing to let Robert Smith carry on informal conversations with
him. It speedily appeared that so far from making overtures, Jackson was
disposed to await proposals. The President then instructed the Secretary
of State to announce that further discussions would be "in the written
form" and henceforth himself took direct charge of negotiations. The
exchange of letters which followed reveals Madison at his best. His
rapier-like thrusts soon pierced even the thick hide of this conceited
Englishman. The stupid Smith who signed these letters appeared to be no
mean adversary after all.

In one of his rejoinders the British Minister yielded to a flash of
temper and insinuated (as Canning in his instructions had done) that the
American Government had known Erskine's instructions and had encouraged
him to set them aside--had connived in short at his wrongdoing. "Such
insinuations," replied Madison sharply, "are inadmissible in the
intercourse of a foreign minister with a government that understands
what it owes itself." "You will find that in my correspondence
with you," wrote Jackson angrily, "I have carefully avoided drawing
conclusions that did not necessarily follow from the premises advanced
by me, and least of all should I think of uttering an insinuation where
I was unable to substantiate a fact." A fatal outburst of temper which
delivered the writer into the hands of his adversary. "Sir," wrote the
President, still using the pen of his docile secretary, "finding that
you have used a language which cannot be understood but as reiterating
and even aggravating the same gross insinuation, it only remains, in
order to preclude opportunities which are thus abused, to inform you
that no further communications will be received from you." Therewith
terminated the American Mission of Francis James Jackson.

Following this diplomatic episode, Congress Wain sought a way of escape
from the consequences of total nonintercourse. It finally enacted a
bill known as Macon's Bill No. 2, which in a sense reversed the former
policy, since it left commerce everywhere free, and authorized the
President, "in case either Great Britain or France shall, before the
3d day of March next, so revoke or modify her edicts as that they shall
cease to violate the neutral commerce of the United States," to cut off
trade with the nation which continued to offend. The act thus gave the
President an immense discretionary power which might bring the country
face to face with war. It was the last act in that extraordinary series
of restrictive measures which began with the Non-Intercourse Act of
1806. The policy of peaceful coercion entered on its last phase.

And now, once again, the shadow of the Corsican fell across the seas.
With the unerring shrewdness of an intellect never vexed by ethical
considerations, Napoleon announced that he would meet the desires of the
American Government. "I am authorized to declare to you, Sir," wrote
the Duc de Cadore, Minister of Foreign Affairs, to Armstrong, "that the
Decrees of Berlin and Milan are revoked, and that after November 1 they
will cease to have effect--it being understood that in consequence of
this declaration the English are to revoke their Orders-in-Council,
and renounce the new principles of blockade which they have wished to
establish; or that the United States, conformably to the Act you have
just communicated [the Macon Act], cause their rights to be respected by
the English."

It might be supposed that President Madison, knowing with whom he had to
deal, would have hesitated to accept Napoleon's asseverations at their
face value. He had, indeed, no assurances beyond Cadore's letter that
the French decrees had been repealed. But he could not let slip this
opportunity to force Great Britain's hand. It seemed to be a last chance
to test the effectiveness of peaceable coercion. On November 2, 1810,
he issued the momentous proclamation which eventually made Great Britain
rather than France the object of attack. "It has been officially made
known to this government," said the President, "that the said edicts of
France have been so revoked as that they ceased, on the first day of the
present month, to violate the neutral commerce of the United States."
Thereupon the Secretary of the Treasury instructed collectors of customs
that commercial intercourse with Great Britain would be suspended after
the 2d of February of the following year.

The next three months were full of painful experiences for President
Madison. He waited, and waited in vain, for authentic news of the formal
repeal of the French decrees; and while he waited, he was distressed and
amazed to learn that American vessels were still being confiscated in
French ports. In the midst of these uncertainties occurred the biennial
congressional elections, the outcome of which only deepened his
perplexities. Nearly one-half of those who sat in the existing Congress
failed of reelection, yet, by a vicious custom, the new House, which
presumably reflected the popular mood in 1810, would not meet for
thirteen months, while the old discredited Congress wearily dragged out
its existence in a last session. Vigorous presidential leadership, it
is true, might have saved the expiring Congress from the reproach
of incapacity, but such leadership was not to be expected from James

So it was that the President's message to this moribund Congress was
simply a counsel of prudence and patience. It pointed out, to be sure,
the uncertainties of the situation, but it did not summon Congress
sternly to face the alternatives. It alluded mildly to the need of
a continuance of our defensive and precautionary arrangements,
and suggested further organization and training of the militia; it
contemplated with satisfaction the improvement of the quantity and
quality of the output of cannon and small arms; it set the seal of the
President's approval upon the new military academy; but nowhere did it
sound a trumpet-call to real preparedness.

Even to these mild suggestions Congress responded indifferently. It
slightly increased the naval appropriations, but it actually reduced the
appropriations for the army; and it adjourned without acting on the bill
authorizing the President to enroll fifty thousand volunteers. Personal
animosity and prejudice combined to defeat the proposals of the
Secretary of the Treasury. A bill to recharter the national bank, which
Gallatin regarded as an indispensable fiscal agent, was defeated; and a
bill providing for a general increase of duties on imports to meet the
deficit was laid aside. Congress would authorize a loan of five million
dollars but no new taxes. Only one bill was enacted which could be said
to sustain the President's policy--that reviving certain parts of
the Non-Intercourse Act of 1809 against Great Britain. With this last
helpless gasp the Eleventh Congress expired.

The defeat of measures which the Administration had made its own
amounted to a vote of no confidence. Under similar circumstances an
English Ministry would have either resigned or tested the sentiment of
the country by a general election; but the American Executive possesses
no such means of appealing immediately and directly to the electorate.
President and Congress must live out their allotted terms of office,
even though their antagonism paralyzes the operation of government.
What, then, could be done to restore confidence in the Administration of
President Madison and to establish a modus vivendi between Executive and

It seemed to the Secretary of Treasury, smarting under the defeat of
his bank bill, that he had become a burden to the Administration, an
obstacle in the way of cordial cooperation between the branches of the
Federal Government. The factions which had defeated his appointment
to the Department of State seemed bent upon discrediting him and his
policies. "I clearly perceive," he wrote to the President, "that my
continuing a member of the present Administration is no longer of any
public utility, invigorates the opposition against yourself, and must
necessarily be attended with an increased loss of reputation by myself.
Under those impressions, not without reluctance, and after perhaps
hesitating too long in the hopes of a favorable change, I beg leave to
tender you my resignation."

This timely letter probably saved the Administration. Not for an instant
could the President consider sacrificing the man who for ten years
had been the mainstay of Republican power. Madison acted with unwonted
promptitude. He refused to accept Gallatin's resignation, and determined
to break once and for all with the faction which had hounded Gallatin
from the day of his appointment and which had foisted upon the President
an unwelcome Secretary of State. Not Gallatin but Robert Smith should
go. Still more surprising was Madison's quick decision to name Monroe
as Smith's successor, if he could be prevailed upon to accept. Both
Virginians understood the deeper personal and political significance of
this appointment. Madison sought an alliance with a faction which had
challenged his administrative policy; Monroe inferred that no opposition
would be interposed to his eventual elevation to the Presidency when
Madison should retire. What neither for the moment understood was the
effect which the appointment would have upon the foreign policy of the
Administration. Monroe hesitated, for he and his friends had been open
critics of the President's pro-French policy. Was the new Secretary
of State to be bound by this policy, or was the President prepared to
reverse his course and effect a reconciliation with England?

These very natural misgivings the President brushed aside by assuring
Monroe's friends that he was very hopeful of settling all differences
with both France and England. Certainly he had in no wise committed
himself to a course which would prevent a renewal of negotiations
with England; he had always desired "a cordial accommodation." Thus
reassured, Monroe accepted the invitation, never once doubting that he
would reverse the policy of the Administration, achieve a diplomatic
triumph, and so appear as the logical successor to President Madison.

Had the new Secretary of State known the instructions which the British
Foreign Office was drafting at this moment for Mr. Augustus J. Foster,
Jackson's successor, he would have been less sanguine. This "very
gentlemanlike young man," as Jackson called him, was told to make some
slight concessions to American sentiment--he might make proper amends
for the Chesapeake affair but on the crucial matter of the French
decrees he was bidden to hold rigidly to the uncompromising position
taken by the Foreign Office from the beginning--that the President was
mistaken in thinking that they had been repealed. The British Government
could not modify its orders-in-council on unsubstantiated rumors that
the offensive French decrees had been revoked. Secretly Foster was
informed that the Ministry was prepared to retaliate if the American
Government persisted in shutting out British importations. No one in
the ministry, or for that matter in the British Isles, seems to have
understood that the moment had come for concession and not retaliation,
if peaceful relations were to continue.

It was most unfortunate that while Foster was on his way to the United
States, British cruisers would have renewed the blockade of New York.
Two frigates, the Melampus and the Guerriere, lay off Sandy Hook and
resumed the old irritating practice of holding up American vessels and
searching them for deserters. In the existing state of American feeling,
with the Chesapeake outrage still unredressed, the behavior of the
British commanders was as perilous as walking through a powder
magazine with a live coal. The American navy had suffered severely
from Jefferson's "chaste reformation" but it had not lost its fighting
spirit. Officers who had served in the war with Tripoli prayed for a
fair chance to avenge the Chesapeake; and the Secretary of the Navy had
abetted this spirit in his orders to Commodore John Rodgers, who was
patrolling the coast with a squadron of frigates and sloops. "What has
been perpetrated," Rodgers was warned, "may be again attempted. It is
therefore our duty to be prepared and determined at every hazard to
vindicate the injured honor of our navy, and revive the drooping spirit
of the nation."

Under the circumstances it would have been little short of a miracle if
an explosion had not occurred; yet for a year Rodgers sailed up and down
the coast without encountering the British frigates. On May 16, 1811,
however, Rodgers in his frigate, the President, sighted a suspicious
vessel some fifty miles off Cape Henry. From her general appearance he
judged her to be a man-of-war and probably the Guerriere. He decided to
approach her, he relates, in order to ascertain whether a certain seaman
alleged to have been impressed was aboard; but the vessel made off and
he gave chase. By dusk the two ships were abreast. Exactly what then
happened will probably never be known, but all accounts agree that a
shot was fired and that a general engagement followed. Within fifteen
minutes the strange vessel was disabled and lay helpless under the guns
of the President, with nine of her crew dead and twenty-three wounded.
Then, to his intense disappointment, Rodgers learned that his adversary
was not the Guerriere but the British sloop of war Little Belt, a craft
greatly inferior to his own.

However little this one-sided sea fight may have salved the pride of
the American navy, it gave huge satisfaction to the general public. The
Chesapeake was avenged. When Foster disembarked he found little interest
in the reparations which he was charged to offer. He had been prepared
to settle a grievance in a good-natured way; he now felt himself obliged
to demand explanations. The boot was on the other leg; and the American
public lost none of the humor of the situation. Eventually he offered
to disavow Admiral Berkeley's act, to restore the seamen taken from the
Chesapeake, and to compensate them and their families. In the course
of time the two unfortunates who had survived were brought from their
prison at Halifax and restored to the decks of the Chesapeake in Boston
Harbor. But as for the Little Belt, Foster had to rest content with the
findings of an American court of inquiry which held that the British
sloop had fired the first shot. As yet there were no visible signs
that Monroe had effected a change in the foreign policy of the
Administration, though he had given the President a momentary advantage
over the opposition. Another crisis was fast approaching. When Congress
met a month earlier than usual, pursuant to the call of the President,
the leadership passed from the Administration to a group of men who had
lost all faith in commercial restrictions as a weapon of defense against
foreign aggression.


Among the many unsolved problems which Jefferson bequeathed to his
successor in office was that of the southern frontier. Running like a
shuttle through the warp of his foreign policy had been his persistent
desire to acquire possession of the Spanish Floridas. This dominant
desire, amounting almost to a passion, had mastered even his better
judgment and had created dilemmas from which he did not escape without
the imputation of duplicity. On his retirement he announced that he was
leaving all these concerns "to be settled by my friend, Mr. Madison,"
yet he could not resist the desire to direct the course of his
successor. Scarcely a month after he left office he wrote, "I suppose
the conquest of Spain will soon force a delicate question on you as to
the Floridas and Cuba, which will offer themselves to you. Napoleon
will certainly give his consent without difficulty to our receiving the
Floridas, and with some difficulty possibly Cuba."

In one respect Jefferson's intuition was correct. The attempt of
Napoleon to subdue Spain and to seat his brother Joseph once again on
the throne of Ferdinand VII was a turning point in the history of
the Spanish colonies in America. One by one they rose in revolt and
established revolutionary juntas either in the name of their deposed
King or in professed cooperation with the insurrectionary government
which was resisting the invader. Events proved that independence was the
inevitable issue of all these uprisings from the Rio de la Plata to the
Rio Grande.

In common with other Spanish provinces, West Florida felt the impact of
this revolutionary spirit, but it lacked natural unity and a dominant
Spanish population. The province was in fact merely a strip of coast
extending from the Perdido River to the Mississippi, indented with bays
into which great rivers from the north discharged their turgid waters.
Along these bays and rivers were scattered the inhabitants, numbering
less than one hundred thousand, of whom a considerable portion had
come from the States. There, as always on the frontier, land had been
a lodestone attracting both the speculator and the homeseeker. In the
parishes of West Feliciana and Baton Rouge, in the alluvial bottoms
of the Mississippi, and in the settlements around Mobile Bay, American
settlers predominated, submitting with ill grace to the exactions
of Spanish officials who were believed to be as corrupt as they were

If events had been allowed to take their natural course, West Florida
would in all probability have fallen into the arms of the United States
as Texas did three decades later. But the Virginia Presidents were
too ardent suitors to await the slow progress of events; they meant to
assist destiny. To this end President Jefferson had employed General
Wilkinson, with indifferent success. President Madison found more
trustworthy agents in Governor Claiborne of New Orleans and Governor
Holmes of Mississippi, whose letters reveal the extent to which Madison
was willing to meddle with destiny. "Nature had decreed the union of
Florida with the United States," Claiborne affirmed; but he was not
so sure that nature could be left to execute her own decrees, for he
strained every nerve to prepare the way for American intervention when
the people of West Florida should declare themselves free from Spain.
Holmes also was instructed to prepare for this eventuality and to
cooperate with Claiborne in West Florida "in diffusing the impressions
we wish to be made there."

The anticipated insurrection came off just when and where nature
had decreed. In the summer of 1810 a so-called "movement for
self-government" started at Bayou Sara and at Baton Rouge, where
nine-tenths of the inhabitants were Americans. The leaders took pains
to assure the Spanish Commandant that their motives were unimpeachable:
nothing should be done which would in any wise conflict with the
authority of their "loved and worthy sovereign, Don Ferdinand VII."
They wished to relieve the people of the abuses under which they
were suffering, but all should be done in the name of the King. The
Commandant, De Lassus, was not without his suspicions of these patriotic
gentlemen but he allowed himself to be swept along in the current. The
several movements finally coalesced on the 25th of July in a convention
near Baton Rouge, which declared itself "legally constituted to act in
all cases of national concern... with the consent of the governor" and
professed a desire "to promote the safety, honor, and happiness of our
beloved king" as well as to rectify abuses in the province. It adjourned
with the familiar Spanish salutation which must have sounded ironical
to the helpless De Lassus, "May God preserve you many years!" Were these
pious professions farcical? Or were they the sincere utterances of men
who, like the patriots of 1776, were driven by the march of events out
of an attitude of traditional loyalty to the King into open defence of
his authority?

The Commandant was thus thrust into a position where his every movement
would be watched with distrust. The pretext for further action was
soon given. An intercepted letter revealed that DeLassus had written to
Governor Folch for an armed force. That "act of perfidy" was enough to
dissolve the bond between the convention and the Commandant. On the 23d
of September, under cover of night, an armed force shouting "Hurrah!
Washington!" overpowered the garrison of the fort at Baton Rouge,
and three days later the convention declared the independence of West
Florida, "appealing to the Supreme Ruler of the World" for the rectitude
of their intentions. What their intentions were is clear enough. Before
the ink was dry on their declaration of independence, they wrote to the
Administration at Washington, asking for the immediate incorporation of
West Florida into the Union. Here was the blessed consummation of years
of diplomacy near at hand. President Madison had only to reach out his
hand and pluck the ripe fruit; yet he hesitated from constitutional
scruples. Where was the authority which warranted the use of the army
and navy to hold territory beyond the bounds of the United States?
Would not intervention, indeed, be equivalent to an unprovoked attack
on Spain, a declaration of war? He set forth his doubts in a letter to
Jefferson and hinted at the danger which in the end was to resolve all
his doubts. Was there not grave danger that West Florida would pass into
the hands of a third and dangerous party? The conduct of Great Britain
showed a propensity to fish in troubled waters.

On the 27th of October, President Madison issued a proclamation
authorizing Governor Claiborne to take possession of West Florida and
to govern it as part of the Orleans Territory. He justified his action,
which had no precedent in American diplomacy, by reasoning which was
valid only if his fundamental premise was accepted. West Florida, he
repeated, as a part of the Louisiana purchase belonged to the United
States; but without abandoning its claim, the United States had
hitherto suffered Spain to continue in possession, looking forward to a
satisfactory adjustment by friendly negotiation. A crisis had arrived,
however, which had subverted Spanish authority; and the failure of the
United States to take the territory would threaten the interests of
all parties and seriously disturb the tranquillity of the adjoining
territories. In the hands of the United States, West Florida would "not
cease to be a subject of fair and friendly negotiation." In his annual
message President Madison spoke of the people of West Florida as having
been "brought into the bosom of the American family," and two days later
Governor Claiborne formally took possession of the country to the Pearl
River. How territory which had thus been incorporated could still remain
a subject of fair negotiation does not clearly appear, except on the
supposition that Spain would go through the forms of a negotiation which
could have but one outcome.

The enemies of the Administration seized eagerly upon the flaws in
the President's logic, and pressed his defenders sorely in the closing
session of the Eleventh Congress. Conspicuous among the champions of
the Administration was young Henry Clay, then serving out the term of
Senator Thurston of Kentucky who had resigned his office. This eloquent
young lawyer, now in his thirty-third year, had been born and bred in
the Old Dominion--a typical instance of the American boy who had nothing
but his own head and hands wherewith to make his way in the world. He
had a slender schooling, a much-abbreviated law education in a lawyer's
office, and little enough of that intellectual discipline needed for
leadership at the bar; yet he had a clever wit, an engaging personality,
and a rare facility in speaking, and he capitalized these assets. He
was practising law in Lexington, Kentucky, when he was appointed to the

What this persuasive Westerner had to say on the American title to West
Florida was neither new nor convincing; but what he advocated as an
American policy was both bold and challenging. "The eternal principles
of self preservation" justified in his mind the occupation of West
Florida, irrespective of any title. With Cuba and Florida in the
possession of a foreign maritime power, the immense extent of country
watered by streams entering the Gulf would be placed at the mercy of
that power. Neglect the proffered boon and some nation profiting by this
error would seize this southern frontier. It had been intimated that
Great Britain might take sides with Spain to resist the occupation of
Florida. To this covert threat Clay replied,

"Sir, is the time never to arrive, when we may manage our own affairs
without the fear of insulting his Britannic Majesty? Is the rod of
British power to be forever suspended over our heads? Does the President
refuse to continue a correspondence with a minister, who violates
the decorum belonging to his diplomatic character, by giving and
deliberately repeating an affront to the whole nation? We are instantly
menaced with the chastisement which English pride will not fail
to inflict. Whether we assert our rights by sea, or attempt their
maintenance by land--whithersoever we turn ourselves, this phantom
incessantly pursues us. Already has it had too much influence on
the councils of the nation. It contributed to the repeal of the
embargo--that dishonorable repeal, which has so much tarnished the
character of our government. Mr. President, I have before said on this
floor, and now take occasion to remark, that I most sincerely desire
peace and amity with England; that I even prefer an adjustment of all
differences with her, before one with any other nation. But if she
persists in a denial of justice to us, or if she avails herself of the
occupation of West Florida, to commence war upon us, I trust and hope
that all hearts will unite, in a bold and vigorous vindication of our

"I am not, sir, in favour of cherishing the passion of conquest. But
I must be permitted, in conclusion, to indulge the hope of seeing,
ere long, the NEW United States (if you will allow me the expression)
embracing, not only the old thirteen States, but the entire country east
of the Mississippi, including East Florida, and some of the territories
of the north of us also."

Conquest was not a familiar word in the vocabulary of James Madison, and
he may well have prayed to be delivered from the hands of his friends,
if this was to be the keynote of their defense of his policy in West
Florida. Nevertheless, he was impelled in spite of himself in the
direction of Clay's vision. If West Florida in the hands of an
unfriendly power was a menace to the southern frontier, East Florida
from the Perdido to the ocean was not less so. By the 3d of January,
1811, he was prepared to recommend secretly to Congress that he should
be authorized to take temporary possession of East Florida, in case the
local authorities should consent or a foreign power should attempt
to occupy it. And Congress came promptly to his aid with the desired

Twelve months had now passed since the people of the several States
had expressed a judgment at the polls by electing a new Congress. The
Twelfth Congress was indeed new in more senses than one. Some seventy
representatives took their seats for the first time, and fully half of
the familiar faces were missing. Its first and most significant act,
betraying a new spirit, was the choice as Speaker of Henry Clay, who
had exchanged his seat in the Senate for the more stirring arena of the
House. In all the history of the House there is only one other instance
of the choice of a new member as Speaker. It was not merely a personal
tribute to Clay but an endorsement of the forward-looking policy which
he had so vigorously championed in the Senate. The temper of the House
was bold and aggressive, and it saw its mood reflected in the mobile
face of the young Kentuckian.

The Speaker of the House had hitherto followed English traditions,
choosing rather to stand as an impartial moderator than to act as a
legislative leader. For British traditions of any sort Clay had little
respect. He was resolved to be the leader of the House, and if necessary
to join his privileges as Speaker to his rights as a member, in order to
shape the policies of Congress. Almost his first act as Speaker was to
appoint to important committees those who shared his impatience with
commercial restrictions as a means of coercing Great Britain. On the
Committee on Foreign Relations--second to none in importance at this
moment--he placed Peter B. Porter of New York, young John C. Calhoun of
South Carolina, and Felix Grundy of Tennessee; the chairmanship of the
Committee on Naval Affairs he gave to Langdon Cheves of South Carolina;
and the chairmanship of the Committee on Military Affairs, to another
South Carolinian, David Williams. There was nothing fortuitous in this
selection of representatives from the South and Southwest for important
committee posts. Like Clay himself, these young intrepid spirits were
solicitous about the southern frontier--about the ultimate disposal of
the Floridas; like Clay, they had lost faith in temporizing policies;
like Clay, they were prepared for battle with the old adversary if

In the President's message of November 5, 1811, there was just one
passage which suited the mood of this group of younger Republicans.
After a recital of injuries at the hands of the British ministry,
Madison wrote with unwonted vigor: "With this evidence of hostile
inflexibility in trampling on rights which no independent nation can
relinquish Congress will feel the duty of putting the United States into
an armor and an attitude demanded by the crisis; and corresponding with
the national spirit and expectations." It was this part of the message
which the Committee on Foreign Relations took for the text of its
report. The time had arrived, in the opinion of the committee, when
forbearance ceased to be a virtue and when Congress must as a sacred
duty "call forth the patriotism and resources of the country." Nor did
the committee hesitate to point out the immediate steps to be taken if
the country were to be put into a state of preparedness. Let the ranks
of the regular army be filled and ten regiments added; let the President
call for fifty thousand volunteers; let all available war-vessels be put
in commission; and let merchant vessels arm in their own defense.

If these recommendations were translated into acts, they would carry the
country appreciably nearer war; but the members of the committee were
not inclined to shrink from the consequences. To a man they agreed that
war was preferable to inglorious submission to continued outrages, and
that the outcome of war would be positively advantageous. Porter, who
represented the westernmost district of a State profoundly interested in
the northern frontier, doubted not that Great Britain could be despoiled
of her extensive provinces along the borders to the North. Grundy,
speaking for the Southwest, contemplated with satisfaction the time when
the British would be driven from the continent. "I feel anxious," he
concluded, "not only to add the Floridas to the South, but the Canadas
to the North of this Empire." Others, like Calhoun, who now made
his entrance as a debater, refused to entertain these mercenary
calculations. "Sir," exclaimed Calhoun, his deep-set eyes flashing, "I
only know of one principle to make a nation great, to produce in this
country not the form but the real spirit of union, and that is,
to protect every citizen in the lawful pursuit of his business...
Protection and patriotism are reciprocal."

But these young Republicans marched faster than the rank and file. Not
so lightly were Jeffersonian traditions to be thrown aside. The old
Republican prejudice against standing armies and seagoing navies still
survived. Four weary months of discussion produced only two measures of
military importance, one of which provided for the addition to the army
of twenty-five thousand men enlisted for five years, and the other for
the calling into service of fifty thousand state militia. The proposal
of the naval committee to appropriate seven and a half million dollars
to build a new navy was voted down; Gallatin's urgent appeal for
new taxes fell upon deaf ears; and Congress proposed to meet the new
military expenditure by the dubious expedient of a loan of eleven
million dollars.

A hesitation which seemed fatal paralyzed all branches of the Federal
Government in the spring months. Congress was obviously reluctant to
follow the lead of the radicals who clamored for war with Great Britain.
The President was unwilling to recommend a declaration of war, though
all evidence points to the conclusion that he and his advisers believed
war inevitable. The nation was divided in sentiment, the Federalists
insisting with some plausibility that France was as great an offender
as Great Britain and pointing to the recent captures of American
merchantmen by French cruisers as evidence that the decrees had not been
repealed. Even the President was impressed by these unfriendly acts and
soberly discussed with his mentor at Monticello the possibility of war
with both France and England. There was a moment in March, indeed, when
he was disposed to listen to moderate Republicans who advised him to
send a special mission to England as a last chance.

What were the considerations which fixed the mind of the nation and
of Congress upon war with Great Britain? Merely to catalogue the
accumulated grievances of a decade does not suffice. Nations do not
arrive at decisions by mathematical computation of injuries received,
but rather because of a sense of accumulated wrongs which may or may not
be measured by losses in life and property. And this sense of wrongs is
the more acute in proportion to the racial propinquity of the offender.
The most bitter of all feuds are those between peoples of the same
blood. It was just because the mother country from which Americans had
won their independence was now denying the fruits of that independence
that she became the object of attack. In two particulars was Great
Britain offending and France not. The racial differences between French
and American seamen were too conspicuous to countenance impressment
into the navy of Napoleon. No injuries at the hands of France bore any
similarity to the Chesapeake outrage. Nor did France menace the frontier
and the frontier folk of the United States by collusion with the

To suppose that the settlers beyond the Alleghanies were eager to fight
Great Britain solely for "free trade and sailors' rights" is to assume
a stronger consciousness of national unity than existed anywhere in the
United States at this time. These western pioneers had stronger and
more immediate motives for a reckoning with the old adversary. Their
occupation of the Northwest had been hindered at every turn by the red
man, who, they believed, had been sustained in his resistance directly
by British traders and indirectly by the British Government. Documents
now abundantly prove that the suspicion was justified. The key to the
early history of the northwestern frontier is the fur trade. It was for
this lucrative traffic that England retained so long the western posts
which she had agreed to surrender by the Peace of Paris. Out of the
region between the Illinois, the Wabash, the Ohio, and Lake Erie, pelts
had been shipped year after year to the value annually of some 100,000
pounds, in return for the products of British looms and forges. It was
the constant aim of the British trader in the Northwest to secure "the
exclusive advantages of a valuable trade during Peace and the zealous
assistance of brave and useful auxiliaries in time of War." To
dispossess the redskin of his lands and to wrest the fur trade from
British control was the equally constant desire of every full-blooded
Western American. Henry Clay voiced this desire when he exclaimed in the
speech already quoted, "The conquest of Canada is in your power.... Is
it nothing to extinguish the torch that lights up savage warfare? Is it
nothing to acquire the entire fur-trade connected with that country, and
to destroy the temptation and opportunity of violating your revenue and
other laws?" *

     * A memorial of the fur traders of Canada to the Secretary
     of State for War and Colonies (1814), printed as Appendix N
     to Davidson's "The North West Company," throws much light on
     this obscure feature of Western history. See also an article
     on "The Insurgents of 1811," in the American Historical
     Association "Report" (1911) by D. R. Anderson.

The Twelfth Congress had met under the shadow of an impending
catastrophe in the Northwest. Reports from all sources pointed to an
Indian war of considerable magnitude. Tecumseh and his brother the
Prophet had formed an Indian confederacy which was believed to embrace
not merely the tribes of the Northwest but also the Creeks and Seminoles
of the Gulf region. Persistent rumors strengthened long-nourished
suspicions and connected this Indian unrest with the British agents on
the Canadian border. In the event of war, so it was said, the British
paymasters would let the redskins loose to massacre helpless women and
children. Old men retold the outrages of these savage fiends during the
War of Independence.

On the 7th of November--three days after the assembling of
Congress--Governor William Henry Harrison of the Indiana Territory
encountered the Indians of Tecumseh's confederation at Tippecanoe and by
a costly but decisive victory crushed the hopes of their chieftains. As
the news of these events drifted into Washington, it colored perceptibly
the minds of those who doubted whether Great Britain or France were the
greater offender. Grundy, who had seen three brothers killed by Indians
and his mother reduced from opulence to poverty in a single night,
spoke passionately of that power which was taking every "opportunity of
intriguing with our Indian neighbors and setting on the ruthless savages
to tomahawk our women and children." "War," he exclaimed, "is not to
commence by sea or land, it is already begun, and some of the richest
blood of our country has been shed."

Still the President hesitated to lead. On the 31st of March, to be sure,
he suffered Monroe to tell a committee of the House that he thought war
should be declared before Congress adjourned and that he was willing to
recommend an embargo if Congress would agree; but after an embargo for
ninety days had been declared on the 4th of April, he told the British
Minister that it was not, could not be considered, a war measure. He
still waited for Congress to shoulder the responsibility of declaring
war. Why did he hesitate? Was he aware of the woeful state of
unpreparedness everywhere apparent and was he therefore desirous of
delay? Some color is given to this excuse by his efforts to persuade
Congress to create two assistant secretaryships of war. Or was he
conscious of his own inability to play the role of War-President?

The personal question which thrust itself upon Madison at this time was,
indeed, whether he would have a second term of office. An old story,
often told by his detractors, recounts a dramatic incident which is
said to have occurred, just as the congressional caucus of the party
was about to meet. A committee of Republican Congressmen headed by Mr.
Speaker Clay waited upon the President to tell him, that if he wished a
renomination, he must agree to recommend a declaration of war. The story
has never been corroborated; and the dramatic interview probably
never occurred; yet the President knew, as every one knew, that his
renomination was possible only with the support of the war party. When
he accepted the nomination from the Republican caucus on the 18th
of May, he tacitly pledged himself to acquiesce in the plans of the
war-hawks. Some days later an authentic interview did take place between
the President and a deputation of Congressmen headed by the Speaker, in
the course of which the President was assured of the support of Congress
if he would recommend a declaration. Subsequent events point to a
complete understanding.

Clay now used all the latent powers of his office to aid the war party.
Even John Randolph, ever a thorn in the side of the party, was made to
wince. On the 9th of May, Randolph undertook to address the House on the
declaration of war which, he had been credibly informed, was imminent.
He was called to order by a member because no motion was before the
House. He protested that his remarks were prefatory to a motion. The
Speaker ruled that he must first make a motion. "My proposition is,"
responded Randolph sullenly, "that it is not expedient at this time to
resort to a war against Great Britain." "Is the motion seconded?"
asked the Speaker. Randolph protested that a second was not needed and
appealed from the decision of the chair. Then, when the House sustained
the Speaker, Randolph, having found a seconder, once more began to
address the House. Again he was called to order; the House must first
vote to consider the motion. Randolph was beside himself with rage. The
last vestige of liberty of speech was vanishing, he declared. But Clay
was imperturbable. The question of consideration was put and lost.
Randolph had found his master.

On the 1st of June the President sent to Congress what is usually
denominated a war message; yet it contained no positive recommendation
of war. "Congress must decide," said the President, "whether the United
States shall continue passive" or oppose force to force. Prefaced to
this impotent conclusion was a long recital of "progressive usurpations"
and "accumulating wrongs"--a recital which had become so familiar in
state papers as almost to lose its power to provoke popular resentment.
It was significant, however, that the President put in the forefront of
his catalogue of wrongs the impressment of American sailors on the high
seas. No indignity touched national pride so keenly and none so clearly
differentiated Great Britain from France as the national enemy. Almost
equally provocative was the harassing of incoming and outgoing vessels
by British cruisers which hovered off the coasts and even committed
depredations within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
Pretended blockades without an adequate force was a third charge against
the British Government, and closely connected with it that "sweeping
system of blockades, under the name of orders-in-council," against which
two Republican Administrations had struggled in vain.

There was in the count not an item, indeed, which could not have been
charged against Great Britain in the fall of 1807, when the public
clamored for war after the Chesapeake outrage. Four long years had
been spent in testing the efficacy of commercial restrictions, and
the country was if anything less prepared for the alternative. When
President Madison penned this message he was, in fact, making public
avowal of the breakdown of a great Jeffersonian principle. Peaceful
coercion was proved to be an idle dream.

So well advised was the Committee on Foreign Relations to which the
President's message was referred that it could present a long report
two days later, again reviewing the case against the adversary in great
detail. "The contest which is now forced on the United States,"
it concluded, "is radically a contest for their sovereignty and
independency." There was now no other alternative than an immediate
appeal to arms. On the same day Calhoun introduced a bill declaring war
against Great Britain; and on the 4th of June in secret session the war
party mustered by the Speaker bore down all opposition and carried the
bill by a vote of 79 to 49. On the 7th of June the Senate followed
the House by the close vote of 19 to 14; and on the following day the
President promptly signed the bill which marked the end of an epoch.

It is one of the bitterest ironies in history that just twenty-four
hours before war was declared at Washington, the new Ministry at
Westminster announced its intention of immediately suspending the
orders-in-council. Had President Madison yielded to those moderates who
advised him in April to send a minister to England, he might have been
apprized of that gradual change in public opinion which was slowly
undermining the authority of Spencer Perceval's ministry and commercial
system. He had only to wait a little longer to score the greatest
diplomatic triumph of his generation; but fate willed otherwise. No
ocean cable flashed the news of the abrupt change which followed the
tragic assassination of Perceval and the formation of a new ministry.
When the slow-moving packets brought the tidings, war had begun.


The dire calamity which Jefferson and his colleagues had for ten years
bent all their energies to avert had now befallen the young Republic.
War, with all its train of attendant evils, stalked upon the stage, and
was about to test the hearts of pacifist and war-hawk alike. But nothing
marked off the younger Republicans more sharply from the generation to
which Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin belonged than the positive relief
with which they hailed this break with Jeffersonian tradition. This
attitude was something quite different from the usual intrepidity of
youth in the face of danger; it was bottomed upon the conviction which
Clay expressed when he answered the question, "What are we to gain
by the war?" by saying, "What are we not to lose by peace? Commerce,
character, a nation's best treasure, honor!" Calhoun had reached the
same conclusion. The restrictive system as a means of resistance and of
obtaining redress for wrongs, he declared to be unsuited to the genius
of the American people. It required the most arbitrary laws; it
rendered government odious; it bred discontent. War, on the other hand,
strengthened the national character, fed the flame of patriotism, and
perfected the organization of government. "Sir," he exclaimed, "I would
prefer a single Victory over the enemy by sea or land to all the good we
shall ever derive from the continuation of the non-importation act!" The
issue was thus squarely faced: the alternative to peaceable coercion was
now to be given a trial.

Scarcely less remarkable was the buoyant spirit with which these young
Republicans faced the exigencies of war. Defeat was not to be found in
their vocabulary. Clay pictured in fervent rhetoric a victorious army
dictating the terms of peace at Quebec or at Halifax; Calhoun scouted
the suggestion of unpreparedness, declaring that in four weeks after the
declaration of war the whole of Upper and part of Lower Canada would be
in our possession; and even soberer patriots believed that the conquest
of Canada was only a matter of marching across the frontier to Montreal
or Quebec. But for that matter older heads were not much wiser as
prophets of military events. Even Jefferson assured the President that
he had never known a war entered into under more favorable auspices,
and predicted that Great Britain would surely be stripped of all her
possessions on this continent; while Monroe seems to have anticipated
a short decisive war terminating in a satisfactory accommodation with
England. As for the President, he averred many years later that while he
knew the unprepared state of the country, "he esteemed it necessary to
throw forward the flag of the country, sure that the people would press
onward and defend it."

There is something at once humorous and pathetic in this self-portrait
of Madison throwing forward the flag of his country and summoning his
legions to follow on. Never was a man called to lead in war who had so
little of the martial in his character, and yet so earnest a purpose to
rise to the emergency. An observer describes him, the day after war
was declared, "visiting in person--a thing never known before--all the
offices of the Departments of War and the Navy, stimulating everything
in a manner worthy of a little commander-in-chief, with his little round
hat and huge cockade." Stimulation was certainly needed in these two
departments as events proved, but attention to petty details which
should have been watched by subordinates is not the mark of a great
commander. Jefferson afterward consoled Madison for the defeat of his
armies by writing: "All you can do is to order--execution must depend
on others and failures be imputed to them alone." Jefferson failed
to perceive what Madison seems always to have forgotten, that a
commander-in-chief who appoints and may remove his subordinates can
never escape responsibility for their failures. The President's first
duty was not to stimulate the performance of routine in the departments
but to make sure of the competence of the executive heads of those

William Eustis of Massachusetts, Secretary of War, was not without
some little military experience, having served as a surgeon in the
Revolutionary army, but he lacked every qualification for the onerous
task before him. Senator Crawford of Georgia wrote to Monroe caustically
that Eustis should have been forming general and comprehensive
arrangements for the organization of the troops and for the prosecution
of campaigns, instead of consuming his time reading advertisements of
petty retailing merchants, to find where he could purchase one hundred
shoes or two hundred hats. Of Paul Hamilton, the Secretary of Navy,
even less could be expected, for he seems to have had absolutely no
experience to qualify him for the post. Senator Crawford intimated
that in instructing his naval officers Hamilton impressed upon them the
desirability of keeping their superiors supplied with pineapples and
other tropical fruits--an ill-natured comment which, true or not,
gives us the measure of the man. Both Monroe and Gallatin shared the
prevailing estimate of the Secretaries of War and of the Navy and
expressed themselves without reserve to Jefferson; but the President
with characteristic indecision hesitated to purge his Cabinet of these
two incompetents, and for his want of decision he paid dearly.

The President had just left the Capital for his country place at
Montpelier toward the end of August, when the news came that General
William Hull, who had been ordered to invade Upper Canada and begin the
military promenade to Quebec, had surrendered Detroit and his
entire army without firing a gun. It was a crushing disaster and a
well-deserved rebuke for the Administration, for whether the fault was
Hull's or Eustis's, the President had to shoulder the responsibility.
His first thought was to retrieve the defeat by commissioning Monroe to
command a fresh army for the capture of Detroit; but this proposal which
appealed strongly to Monroe had to be put aside--fortunately for all
concerned, for Monroe's desire for military glory was probably not
equalled by his capacity as a commander and the western campaign proved
incomparably more difficult than wiseacres at Washington imagined.

What was needed, indeed, was not merely able commanders in the field,
though they were difficult enough to find. There was much truth in
Jefferson's naive remark to Madison: "The creator has not thought
proper to mark those on the forehead who are of the stuff to make good
generals. We are first, therefore, to seek them, blindfold, and then let
them learn the trade at the expense of great losses." But neither seems
to have comprehended that their opposition to military preparedness had
caused this dearth of talent and was now forcing the Administration to
select blindfold. More pressing even than the need of tacticians was the
need of organizers of victory. The utter failure of the Niagara campaign
vacated the office of Secretary of War; and with Eustis retired also
the Secretary of the Navy. Monroe took over the duties of the one
temporarily, and William Jones, a shipowner of Philadelphia, succeeded

If the President seriously intended to make Monroe Secretary of War
and the head of the General Staff, he speedily discovered that he was
powerless to do so. The Republican leaders in New York felt too keenly
Josiah Quincy's taunt about a despotic Cabinet "composed, to all
efficient purposes, of two Virginians and a foreigner" to permit Monroe
to absorb two cabinet posts. To appease this jealousy of Virginia,
Madison made an appointment which very nearly shipwrecked his
Administration: he invited General John Armstrong of New York to become
Secretary of War. Whatever may be said of Armstrong's qualifications for
the post, his presence in the Cabinet was most inadvisable, for he did
not and could not inspire the personal confidence of either Gallatin
or Monroe. Once in office, he turned Monroe into a relentless enemy and
fairly drove Gallatin out of office in disgust by appointing his
old enemy, William Duane, editor of the Aurora, to the post of
Adjutant-General. "And Armstrong!"--said Dallas who subsequently as
Secretary of War knew whereof he spoke--"he was the devil from the
beginning, is now, and ever will be!"

The man of clearest vision in these unhappy months of 1812 was
undoubtedly Albert Gallatin. The defects of Madison as a War-President
he had long foreseen; the need of reorganizing the Executive Departments
he had pointed out as soon as war became inevitable; and the problem of
financing the war he had attacked farsightedly, fearlessly, and
without regard to political consistency. No one watched the approach of
hostilities with a bitterer sense of blasted hopes. For ten years he had
labored to limit expenditures, sacrificing even the military and naval
establishments, that the people might be spared the burden of needless
taxes;--and within this decade he had also scaled down the national debt
one-half, so that posterity might not be saddled with burdens not of
its own choosing. And now war threatened to undo his work. The young
republic was after all not to lead its own life, realize a unique
destiny, but to tread the old well-worn path of war, armaments, and
high-handed government. Well, he would save what he could, do his
best to avert "perpetual taxation, military establishments, and other
corrupting or anti-republican habits or institutions."

If Gallatin at first underrated the probable revenue for war purposes,
he speedily confessed his error and set before Congress inexorably the
necessity for new taxes-aye, even for an internal tax, which he had once
denounced as loudly as any Republican. For more than a year after
the declaration of war, Congress was deaf to pleas for new sources of
revenue; and it was not, indeed, until the last year of the war that
it voted the taxes which in the long run could alone support the public
credit. Meantime, facing a depleted Treasury, Gallatin found himself
reduced to a mere "dealer of loans"--a position utterly abhorrent to
him. Even his efforts to place the loans which Congress authorized must
have failed but for the timely aid of three men whom Quincy would
have contemptuously termed foreigners, for all like Gallatin were
foreign-born--Astor, Girard, and Parish. Utterly weary of his thankless
job, Gallatin seized upon the opportunity afforded by the Russian
offer of mediation to leave the Cabinet and perhaps to end the war by
a diplomatic stroke. He asked and received an appointment as one of the
three American commissioners.

If Madison really believed that the people of the United States would
unitedly press onward and defend the flag when once he had thrown it
forward, he must have been strangely insensitive to the disaffection
in New England. Perhaps, like Jefferson in the days of the embargo,
he mistook the spirit of this opposition, thinking that it was largely
partisan clamor which could safely be disregarded. What neither of
these Virginians appreciated was the peculiar fanatical and sectional
character of this Federalist opposition, and the extremes to which
it would go. Yet abundant evidence lay before their eyes. Thirty-four
Federalist members of the House, nearly all from New England, issued an
address to their constituents bitterly arraigning the Administration
and deploring the declaration of war; the House of Representatives
of Massachusetts, following this example, published another address,
denouncing the war as a wanton sacrifice of the best interests of
the people and imploring all good citizens to meet in town and county
assemblies to protest and to resolve not to volunteer except for a
defensive war; and a meeting of citizens of Rockingham County, New
Hampshire, adopted a memorial drafted by young Daniel Webster, which
hinted that the separation of the States--"an event fraught with
incalculable evils"--might sometime occur on just such an occasion as
this. Town after town, and county after county, took up the hue and cry,
keeping well within the limits of constitutional opposition, it is true,
but weakening the arm of the Government just when it should have struck
the enemy effective blows.

Nor was the President without enemies in his own political household.
The Republicans of New York, always lukewarm in their support of the
Virginia Dynasty, were now bent upon preventing his reelection. They
found a shrewd and not overscrupulous leader in DeWitt Clinton and
an adroit campaign manager in Martin Van Buren. Both belonged to that
school of New York politicians of which Burr had been master. Anything
to beat Madison was their cry. To this end they were willing to condemn
the war-policy, to promise a vigorous prosecution of the war, and even
to negotiate for peace. What made this division in the ranks of
the Republicans so serious was the willingness of the New England
Federalists to make common cause with Clinton. In September a convention
of Federalists endorsed his nomination for the Presidency.

Under the weight of accumulating disasters, military and political, it
seemed as though Madison must go down in defeat. Every New England State
but Vermont cast its electoral votes for Clinton; all the Middle States
but Pennsylvania also supported him; and Maryland divided its vote. Only
the steadiness of the Southern Republicans and of Pennsylvania saved
Madison; a change of twenty electoral votes would have ended the
Virginia Dynasty.* Now at least Madison must have realized the poignant
truth which the Federalists were never tired of repeating: he had
entered upon the war as President of a divided people.

     * In the electoral vote Madison received 128; Clinton, 89.

Only a few months' experience was needed to convince the military
authorities at Washington that the war must be fought mainly by
volunteers. Every military consideration derived from American history
warned against this policy, it is true, but neither Congress nor the
people would entertain for an instant the thought of conscription. Only
with great reluctance and under pressure had Congress voted to increase
the regular army and to authorize the President to raise fifty thousand
volunteers. The results of this legislation were disappointing, not
to say humiliating. The conditions of enlistment were not such as to
encourage recruiting; and even when the pay had been increased and the
term of service shortened, few able-bodied citizens would respond. If
any such desired to serve their country, they enrolled in the State
militia which the President had been authorized to call into active
service for six months.

In default of a well-disciplined regular army and an adequate volunteer
force, the Administration was forced more and more to depend upon such
quotas of militia as the States would supply. How precarious was the
hold of the national Government upon the State forces, appeared in the
first months of the war. When called upon to supply troops to relieve
the regulars in the coast defenses, the governors of Massachusetts and
Connecticut flatly refused, holding that the commanders of the State
militia, and not the President, had the power to decide when exigencies
demanded the use of the militia in the service of the United States.
In his annual message Madison termed this "a novel and unfortunate
exposition" of the Constitution, and he pointed out--what indeed was
sufficiently obvious--that if the authority of the United States could
be thus frustrated during actual war, "they are not one nation for the
purpose most of all requiring it." But what was the President to do?
Even if he, James Madison, author of the Virginia Resolutions of
1798, could so forget his political creed as to conceive of coercing
a sovereign state, where was the army which would do his bidding? The
President was the victim of his own political theory.

These bitter revelations of 1812--the disaffection of New England,
the incapacity of two of his secretaries, the disasters of his
staff officers on the frontier, the slow recruiting, the defiance of
Massachusetts and Connecticut--almost crushed the President. Never
physically robust, he succumbed to an insidious intermittent fever in
June and was confined to his bed for weeks. So serious was his condition
that Mrs. Madison was in despair and scarcely left his side for five
long weeks. "Even now," she wrote to Mrs. Gallatin, at the end of
July, "I watch over him as I would an infant, so precarious is his
convalescence." The rumor spread that he was not likely to survive, and
politicians in Washington began to speculate on the succession to the

But now and then a ray of hope shot through the gloom pervading the
White House and Capitol. The stirring victory of the Constitution over
the Guerriere in August, 1812, had almost taken the sting out of Hull's
surrender at Detroit, and other victories at sea followed, glorious in
the annals of American naval warfare, though without decisive influence
on the outcome of the war. Of much greater significance was Perry's
victory on Lake Erie in September, 1813, which opened the way to the
invasion of Canada. This brilliant combat followed by the Battle of the
Thames cheered the President in his slow convalescence. Encouraging,
too, were the exploits of American privateers in British waters, but
none of these events seemed likely to hasten the end of the war. Great
Britain had already declined the Russian offer of mediation.

Last day but one of the year 1813 a British schooner, the Bramble, came
into the port of Annapolis bearing an important official letter from
Lord Castlereagh to the Secretary of State. With what eager and anxious
hands Monroe broke the seal of this letter may be readily imagined. It
might contain assurances of a desire for peace; it might indefinitely
prolong the war. In truth the letter pointed both ways. Castlereagh had
declined to accept the good offices of Russia, but he was prepared to
begin direct negotiations for peace. Meantime the war must go on--with
the chances favoring British arms, for the Bramble had also brought the
alarming news of Napoleon's defeat on the plains of Leipzig. Now for
the first time Great Britain could concentrate all her efforts upon
the campaign in North America. No wonder the President accepted
Castlereagh's offer with alacrity. To the three commissioners sent to
Russia, he added Henry Clay and Jonathan Russell and bade them Godspeed
while he nerved himself to meet the crucial year of the war.

Had the President been fully apprized of the elaborate plans of the
British War Office, his anxieties would have been multiplied many
times. For what resources had the Government to meet invasion on
three frontiers? The Treasury was again depleted; new loans brought
in insufficient funds to meet current expenses; recruiting was slack
because the Government could not compete with the larger bounties
offered by the States; by summer the number of effective regular troops
was only twenty-seven thousand all told. With this slender force,
supplemented by State levies, the military authorities were asked to
repel invasion. The Administration had not yet drunk the bitter dregs of
the cup of humiliation.

That some part of the invading British forces might be detailed to
attack the Capital was vaguely divined by the President and his Cabinet;
but no adequate measures had been taken for the defense of the city
when, on a fatal August day, the British army marched upon it. The
humiliating story of the battle of Bladensburg has been told elsewhere.
The disorganized mob which had been hastily assembled to check the
advance of the British was utterly routed almost under the eyes of the
President, who with feelings not easily described found himself obliged
to join the troops fleeing through the city. No personal humiliation was
spared the President and his family. Dolly Madison, never once doubting
that the noise of battle which reached the White House meant an American
victory, stayed calmly indoors until the rush of troops warned her of
danger. She and her friends were then swept along in the general rout.
She was forced to leave her personal effects behind, but her presence of
mind saved one treasure in the White House--a large portrait of General
Washington painted by Gilbert Stuart. That priceless portrait and the
plate were all that survived. The fleeing militiamen had presence of
mind enough to save a large quantity of the wine by drinking it, and
what was left, together with the dinner on the table, was consumed
by Admiral Cockburn and his staff. By nightfall the White House,
the Treasury, and the War Office were in flames, and only a severe
thunderstorm checked the conflagration.*

     * Before passing judgment on the conduct of British officers
     and men in the capital, the reader should recall the equally
     indefensible outrages committed by American troops under
     General Dearborn in 1813, when the Houses of Parliament and
     other public buildings at York (Toronto) were pillaged and
     burned. See Kingsford's "History of Canada," VIII, pp. 259-

Heartsick and utterly weary, the President crossed the Potomac at about
six o'clock in the evening and started westward in a carriage toward
Montpelier. He had been in the saddle since early morning and was nearly
spent. To fatigue was added humiliation, for he was forced to travel
with a crowd of embittered fugitives and sleep in a forlorn house by the
wayside. Next morning he overtook Mrs. Madison at an inn some sixteen
miles from the Capital. Here they passed another day of humiliation, for
refugees who had followed the same line of flight reviled the President
for betraying them and the city. At midnight, alarmed at a report that
the British were approaching, the President fled to another miserable
refuge deeper in the Virginia woods. This fear of capture was quite
unfounded, however, for the British troops had already evacuated the
city and were marching in the opposite direction.

Two days later the President returned to the capital to collect his
Cabinet and repair his shattered Government. He found public sentiment
hot against the Administration for having failed to protect the city.
He had even to fear personal violence, but he remained "tranquil as
usual... though much distressed by the dreadful event which had taken
place." He was still more distressed, however, by the insistent popular
clamor for a victim for punishment. All fingers pointed at Armstrong as
the man responsible for the capture of the city. Armstrong offered
to resign at once, but the President in distress would not hear of
resignation. He would advise only "a temporary retirement" from the city
to placate the inhabitants. So Armstrong departed, but by the time he
reached Baltimore he realized the impossibility of his situation and
sent his resignation to the President. The victim had been offered
up. At his own request Monroe was now made Secretary of War, though
he continued also to discharge the not very heavy duties of the State

It was a disillusioned group of Congressmen who gathered in September,
1814, in special session at the President's call. Among those who gazed
sadly at the charred ruins of the Capitol were Calhoun, Cheves, and
Grundy, whose voices had been loud for war and who had pictured their
armies overrunning the British possessions. Clay was at this moment
endeavoring to avert a humiliating surrender of American claims at
Ghent. To the sting of defeated hopes was added physical discomfort. The
only public building which had escaped the general conflagration was the
Post and Patent Office. In these cramped quarters the two houses awaited
the President's message.

A visitor from another planet would have been strangely puzzled to make
the President's words tally with the havoc wrought by the enemy on every
side. A series of achievements had given new luster to the American
arms; "the pride of our naval arms had been amply supported"; the
American people had "rushed with enthusiasm to the scenes where danger
and duty call." Not a syllable about the disaster at Washington! Not
a word about the withdrawal of the Connecticut militia from national
service, and the refusal of the Governor of Vermont to call out the
militia just at the moment when Sir George Prevost began his invasion of
New York; not a word about the general suspension of specie payment by
all banks outside of New England; not a word about the failure of the
last loan and the imminent bankruptcy of the Government. Only a single
sentence betrayed the anxiety which was gnawing Madison's heart: "It
is not to be disguised that the situation of our country calls for its
greatest efforts." What the situation demanded, he left his secretaries
to say.

The new Secretary of War seemed to be the one member of the
Administration who was prepared to grapple with reality and who had the
courage of his convictions. While Jefferson was warning him that it was
nonsense to talk about a regular army, Monroe told Congress flatly that
no reliance could be pled in the militia and that a permanent force
of one hundred thousand men must be raised--raised by conscription if
necessary. Throwing Virginian and Jeffersonian principles to the winds,
he affirmed the constitutional right of Congress to draft citizens. The
educational value of war must have been very great to bring Monroe
to this conclusion, but Congress had not traveled so far. One by one
Monroe's alternative plans were laid aside; and the country, like a
rudderless ship, drifted on.

An insuperable obstacle, indeed, prevented the establishment of any
efficient national army at this time. Every plan encountered ultimately
the inexorable fact that the Treasury was practically empty and the
credit of the Government gone. Secretary Campbell's report was a
confession of failure to sustain public credit. Some seventy-four
millions would be needed to carry the existing civil and military
establishments for another year, and of this sum, vast indeed in those
days, only twenty-four millions were in sight. Where the remaining
fifty millions were to be found, the Secretary could not say. With this
admission of incompetence Campbell resigned from office. On the 9th of
November his successor, A. J. Dallas, notified holders of government
securities at Boston that the Treasury could not meet its obligations.

It was at this crisis, when bankruptcy stared the Government in the
face, that the Legislature of Massachusetts appointed delegates to
confer with delegates from other New England legislatures on their
common grievances and dangers and to devise means of security and
defense. The Legislatures of Connecticut and Rhode Island responded
promptly by appointing delegates to meet at Hartford on the 15th
of December; and the proposed convention seemed to receive popular
indorsement in the congressional elections, for with but two exceptions
all the Congressmen chosen were Federalists. Hot-heads were discussing
without any attempt at concealment the possibility of reconstructing the
Federal Union. A new union of the good old Thirteen States on terms set
by New England was believed to be well within the bounds of possibility.
News-sheets referred enthusiastically to the erection of a new Federal
edifice which should exclude the Western States. Little wonder that the
harassed President in distant Washington was obsessed with the idea that
New England was on the verge of secession.

William Wirt who visited Washington at this time has left a vivid
picture of ruin and desolation:

"I went to look at the ruins of the President's house. The rooms which
you saw so richly furnished, exhibited nothing but unroofed naked walls,
cracked, defaced, and blackened with fire. I cannot tell you what I
felt as I walked amongst them.... I called on the President. He looks
miserably shattered and wobegone. In short, he looked heartbroken. His
mind is full of the New England sedition. He introduced the subject, and
continued to press it--painful as it obviously was to him. I denied the
probability, even the possibility that the yeomanry of the North
could be induced to place themselves under the power and protection of
England, and diverted the conversation to another topic; but he took the
first opportunity to return to it, and convinced me that his heart and
mind were painfully full of the subject."

What added to the President's misgivings was the secrecy in which the
members of the Hartford Convention shrouded their deliberations. An
atmosphere of conspiracy seemed to envelop all their proceedings. That
the "deliverance of New England" was at hand was loudly proclaimed
by the Federalist press. A reputable Boston news-sheet advised the
President to procure a faster horse than he had mounted at Bladensburg,
if he would escape the swift vengeance of New England.

The report of the Hartford Convention seemed hardly commensurate with
the fears of the President or with the windy boasts of the Federalist
press. It arraigned the Administration in scathing language, to be
sure, but it did not advise secession. "The multiplied abuses of
bad administrations" did not yet justify a severance of the Union,
especially in a time of war. The manifest defects of the Constitution
were not incurable; yet the infractions of the Constitution by the
National Government had been so deliberate, dangerous, and palpable
as to put the liberties of the people in jeopardy and to constrain the
several States to interpose their authority to protect their citizens.
The legislatures of the several States were advised to adopt measures to
protect their citizens against such unconstitutional acts of Congress
as conscription and to concert some arrangement with the Government at
Washington, whereby they jointly or separately might undertake their
own defense, and retain a reasonable share of the proceeds of Federal
taxation for that purpose. To remedy the defects of the Constitution
seven amendments were proposed, all of which had their origin in
sectional hostility to the ascendancy of Virginia and to the growing
power of the New West. The last of these proposals was a shot at Madison
and Virginia: "nor shall the President be elected from the same State
two terms in succession." And finally, should these applications of the
States for permission to arm in their own defense be ignored, then and
in the event that peace should not be concluded, another convention
should be summoned "with such powers and instructions as the exigency of
a crisis so momentous may require."

Massachusetts, under Federalist control, acted promptly upon these
suggestions. Three commissioners were dispatched to Washington to effect
the desired arrangements for the defense of the State. The progress of
these "three ambassadors," as they styled themselves, was followed with
curiosity if not with apprehension. In Federalist circles there was a
general belief that an explosion was at hand. A disaster at New Orleans,
which was now threatened by a British fleet and army, would force
Madison to resign or to conclude peace. But on the road to Washington,
the ambassadors learned to their surprise that General Andrew Jackson
had decisively repulsed the British before New Orleans, on the 8th of
January, and on reaching the Capital they were met by the news that
a treaty of peace had been signed at Ghent. Their cause was not only
discredited but made ridiculous. They and their mission were forgotten
as the tension of war times relaxed. The Virginia Dynasty was not to end
with James Madison.


On a May afternoon in the year 1813, a little three-hundred-ton ship,
the Neptune, put out from New Castle down Delaware Bay. Before she
could clear the Capes she fell in with a British frigate, one of the
blockading squadron which was already drawing its fatal cordon around
the seaboard States. The captain of the Neptune boarded the frigate
and presented his passport, from which it appeared that he carried two
distinguished passengers, Albert Gallatin and James A. Bayard, Envoys
Extraordinary to Russia. The passport duly viseed, the Neptune resumed
her course out into the open sea, by grace of the British navy.

One of these envoys watched the coast disappear in the haze of evening
with mingled feelings of regret and relief. For twelve weary years
Gallatin had labored disinterestedly for the land of his adoption and
now he was recrossing the ocean to the home of his ancestors with the
taunts of his enemies ringing in his ears. Would the Federalists never
forget that he was a "foreigner"? He reflected with a sad, ironic
smile that as a "foreigner with a French accent" he would have distinct
advantages in the world of European diplomacy upon which he was
entering. He counted many distinguished personages among his friends,
from Madame de Stael to Alexander Baring of the famous London banking
house. Unlike many native Americans he did not need to learn the ways of
European courts, because he was to the manner born: he had no provincial
habits which he must slough off or conceal. Also he knew himself and the
happy qualities with which Nature had endowed him--patience, philosophic
composure, unfailing good humor. All these qualities were to be laid
under heavy requisition in the work ahead of him.

James Bayard, Gallatin's fellow passenger, had never been taunted as a
foreigner, because several generations had intervened since the first of
his family had come to New Amsterdam with Peter Stuyvesant. Nothing
but his name could ever suggest that he was not of that stock commonly
referred to as native American. Bayard had graduated at Princeton,
studied law in Philadelphia, and had just opened a law office in
Wilmington when he was elected to represent Delaware in Congress. As the
sole representative of his State in the House of Representatives and
as a Federalist, he had exerted a powerful influence in the disputed
election of 1800, and he was credited with having finally made possible
the election of Jefferson over Burr. Subsequently he was sent to the
Senate, where he was serving when he was asked by President Madison to
accompany Gallatin on this mission to the court of the Czar. Granting
that a Federalist must be selected, Gallatin could not have found
a colleague more to his liking, for Bayard was a good companion and
perhaps the least partisan of the Federalist leaders.

It was midsummer when the Neptune dropped anchor in the harbor of
Kronstadt. There Gallatin and Bayard were joined by John Quincy Adams,
Minister to Russia, who had been appointed the third member of the
commission. Here was a pureblooded American by all the accepted canons.
John Quincy Adams was the son of his father and gloried secretly in his
lineage: a Puritan of the Puritans in his outlook upon human life
and destiny. Something of the rigid quality of rock-bound New England
entered into his composition. He was a foe to all compromise--even with
himself; to him Duty was the stern daughter of the voice of God, who
admonished him daily and hourly of his obligations. No character in
American public life has unbosomed himself so completely as this son of
Massachusetts in the pages of his diary. There are no half tones in the
pictures which he has drawn of himself, no winsome graces of mind
or heart, only the rigid outlines of a soul buffeted by Destiny.
Gallatin--the urbane, cosmopolitan Gallatin--must have derived much
quiet amusement from his association with this robust New Englander who
took himself so seriously. Two natures could not have been more unlike,
yet the superior flexibility of Gallatin's temperament made their
association not only possible but exceedingly profitable. We may not
call their intimacy a friendship--Adams had few, if any friendships; but
it contained the essential foundation for friendship--complete mutual

Adams brought disheartening news to the travel-weary passengers on the
Neptune: England had declined the offer of mediation. Yes; he had
the information from the lips of Count Roumanzoff, the Chancellor and
Minister of Foreign Affairs. Apparently, said Adams with pursed lips,
England regarded the differences with America as a sort of family
quarrel in which it would not allow an outside neutral nation to
interfere. Roumanzoff, however, had renewed the offer of mediation.
What the motives of the Count were, he would not presume to say: Russian
diplomacy was unfathomable.

The American commissioners were in a most embarrassing position.
Courtesy required that they should make no move until they knew what
response the second offer of mediation would evoke. The Czar was their
only friend in all Europe, so far as they knew, and they were none too
sure of him. They were condemned to anxious inactivity, while in middle
Europe the fortunes of the Czar rose and fell. In August the combined
armies of Russia, Austria, and Prussia were beaten by the fresh levies
of Napoleon; in September, the fighting favored the allies; in October,
Napoleon was brought to bay on the plains of Leipzig. Yet the imminent
fall of the Napoleonic Empire only deepened the anxiety of the forlorn
American envoys, for it was likely to multiply the difficulties of
securing reasonable terms from his conqueror.

At the same time with news of the Battle of Leipzig came letters from
home which informed Gallatin that his nomination as envoy had been
rejected by the Senate. This was the last straw. To remain inactive as
an envoy was bad enough; to stay on unaccredited seemed impossible. He
determined to take advantage of a hint dropped by his friend Baring that
the British Ministry, while declining mediation, was not unwilling to
treat directly with the American commissioners. He would go to London in
an unofficial capacity and smooth the way to negotiations. But Adams and
Bayard demurred and persuaded him to defer his departure. A month later
came assurances that Lord Castlereagh had offered to negotiate with the
Americans either at London or at Gothenburg.

Late in January, 1814, Gallatin and Bayard set off for Amsterdam: the
one to bide his chance to visit London, the other to await further
instructions. There they learned that in response to Castlereagh's
overtures, the President had appointed a new commission, on which
Gallatin's name did not appear. Notwithstanding this disappointment,
Gallatin secured the desired permission to visit London through
the friendly offices of Alexander Baring. Hardly had the Americans
established themselves in London when word came that the two new
commissioners, Henry Clay and Jonathan Russell, had landed at Gothenburg
bearing a commission for Gallatin. It seems that Gallatin was believed
to be on his way home and had therefore been left off the commission;
on learning of his whereabouts, the President had immediately added his
name. So it happened that Gallatin stood last on the list when every
consideration dictated his choice as head of the commission. The
incident illustrates the difficulties that beset communication one
hundred years ago. Diplomacy was a game of chance in which wind and
waves often turned the score. Here were five American envoys duly
accredited, one keeping his stern vigil in Russia, two on the coast of
Sweden, and two in hostile London. Where would they meet? With whom were
they to negotiate?

After vexatious delays Ghent was fixed upon as the place where peace
negotiations should begin, and there the Americans rendezvoused during
the first week in July. Further delay followed, for in spite of the
assurances of Lord Castlereagh the British representatives did not make
their appearance for a month. Meantime the American commissioners made
themselves at home among the hospitable Flemish townspeople, with whom
they became prime favorites. In the concert halls they were always
greeted with enthusiasm. The musicians soon discovered that British
tunes were not in favor and endeavored to learn some American airs. Had
the Americans no national airs of their own, they asked. "Oh, yes!" they
were assured. "There was Hail Columbia." Would not one of the gentlemen
be good enough to play or sing it? An embarrassing request, for musical
talent was not conspicuous in the delegation; but Peter, Gallatin's
black servant, rose to the occasion. He whistled the air; and then
one of the attaches scraped out the melody on a fiddle, so that the
quick-witted orchestra speedily composed l'air national des Americains a
grand orchestre, and thereafter always played it as a counterbalance to
God save the King.

The diversions of Ghent, however, were not numerous, and time hung
heavy on the hands of the Americans while they waited for the British
commissioners. "We dine together at four," Adams records, "and sit
usually at table until six. We then disperse to our several amusements
and avocations." Clay preferred cards or billiards and the mild
excitement of rather high stakes. Gallatin and his young son James
preferred the theater; and all but Adams became intimately acquainted
with the members of a French troupe of players whom Adams describes
as the worst he ever saw. As for Adams himself, his diversion was a
solitary walk of two or three hours, and then to bed.

On the 6th of August the British commissioners arrived in Ghent--Admiral
Lord Gambier, Henry Goulburn, Esq., and Dr. William Adams. They were
not an impressive trio. Gambier was an elderly man whom a writer in the
Morning Chronicle described as a man "who slumbered for some time as a
Junior Lord of Admiralty; who sung psalms, said prayers, and assisted in
the burning of Copenhagen, for which he was made a lord." Goulburn was
a young man who had served as an undersecretary of state. Adams was a
doctor of laws who was expected perhaps to assist negotiations by his
legal lore. Gallatin described them not unfairly as "men who have not
made any mark, puppets of Lords Castlereagh and Liverpool." Perhaps, in
justification of this choice of representatives, it should be said that
the best diplomatic talent had been drafted into service at Vienna and
that the British Ministry expected in this smaller conference to keep
the threads of diplomacy in its own hands.

The first meeting of the negotiators was amicable enough. The Americans
found their opponents courteous and well-bred; and both sides evinced a
desire to avoid in word and manner, as Bayard put it, "everything of an
inflammable nature." Throughout this memorable meeting at Ghent, indeed,
even when difficult situations arose and nerves became taut, personal
relations continued friendly. "We still keep personally upon eating and
drinking terms with them," Adams wrote at a tense moment. Speaking for
his superiors and his colleagues, Admiral Gambier assured the Americans
of their earnest desire to end hostilities on terms honorable to both
parties. Adams replied that he and his associates reciprocated this
sentiment. And then, without further formalities, Goulburn stated in
blunt and business-like fashion the matters on which they had been
instructed: impressment, fisheries, boundaries, the pacification of the
Indians, and the demarkation of an Indian territory. The last was to be
regarded as a sine qua non for the conclusion of any treaty. Would the
Americans be good enough to state the purport of their instructions?

The American commissioners seem to have been startled out of their
composure by this sine qua non. They had no instructions on this latter
point nor on the fisheries; they could only ask for a more specific
statement. What had His Majesty's Government in mind when it referred to
an Indian territory? With evident reluctance the British commissioners
admitted that the proposed Indian territory was to serve as a buffer
state between the United States and Canada. Pressed for more details,
they intimated that this area thus neutralized might include the entire

A second conference only served to show the want of any common basis for
negotiation. The Americans had come to Ghent to settle two outstanding
problems--blockades and indemnities for attacks on neutral commerce--and
to insist on the abandonment of impressments as a sine qua non. Both
commissions then agreed to appeal to their respective Governments for
further instructions. Within a week, Lord Castlereagh sent precise
instructions which confirmed the worst fears of the Americans. The
Indian boundary line was to follow the line of the Treaty of Greenville
and beyond it neither nation was to acquire land. The United States
was asked, in short, to set apart for the Indians in perpetuity an area
which comprised the present States of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois,
four-fifths of Indiana, and a third of Ohio. But, remonstrated Gallatin,
this area included States and Territories settled by more than a hundred
thousand American citizens. What was to be done with them? "They must
look after themselves," was the blunt answer.

In comparison with this astounding proposal, Lord Castlereagh's further
suggestion of a "rectification" of the frontier by the cession of Fort
Niagara and Sackett's Harbor and by the exclusion of the Americans from
the Lakes, seemed of little importance. The purpose of His Majesty's
Government, the commissioners hastened to add, was not aggrandizement
but the protection of the North American provinces. In view of the
avowed aim of the United States to conquer Canada, the control of the
Lakes must rest with Great Britain. Indeed, taking the weakness of
Canada into account, His Majesty's Government might have reasonably
demanded the cession of the lands adjacent to the Lakes; and should
these moderate terms not be accepted, His Majesty's Government would
feel itself at liberty to enlarge its demands, if the war continued to
favor British arms. The American commissioners asked if these proposals
relating to the control of the Lakes were also a sine qua non. "We
have given you one sine qua non already," was the reply, "and we should
suppose one sine qua non at a time was enough."

The Americans returned to their hotel of one mind: they could view
the proposals just made no other light than as a deliberate attempt to
dismember the United States. They could differ only as to the form in
which they should couch their positive rejection. As titular head of the
commission, Adams set promptly to work upon a draft of an answer which
he soon set before his colleagues. At once all appearance of unanimity
vanished. To the enemy they could present a united front; in the privacy
of their apartment, they were five headstrong men. They promptly fell
upon Adams's draft tooth and nail. Adams described the scene with
pardonable resentment.

"Mr. Gallatin is for striking out any expression that may be offensive
to the feelings of the adverse Party. Mr. Clay is displeased with
figurative language which he thinks improper for a state paper. Mr.
Russell, agreeing in the objections of the two other gentlemen, will be
further for amending the construction of every sentence; and Mr. Bayard,
even when agreeing to say precisely the same thing, chooses to say it
only in his own language."

Sharp encounters took place between Adams and Clay. "You dare not,"
shouted Clay in a passion on one occasion, "you CANNOT, you SHALL not
insinuate that there has been a cabal of three members against you!"
"Gentlemen! Gentlemen!" Gallatin would expostulate with a twinkle in his
eye, "We must remain united or we will fail." It was his good temper
and tact that saved this and many similar situations. When Bayard
had essayed a draft of his own and had failed to win support, it was
Gallatin who took up Adams's draft and put it into acceptable form. On
the third day, after hours of "sifting, erasing, patching, and amending,
until we were all wearied, though none of us satisfied," Gallatin's
revision was accepted. From this moment, Gallatin's virtual leadership
was unquestioned.

The American note of the 24th of August was a vigorous but even-tempered
protest against the British demands as contrary to precedent and
dishonorable to the United States. The American States would never
consent "to abandon territory and a portion of their citizens, to admit
a foreign interference in their domestic concerns, and to cease to
exercise their natural rights on their own shores and in their own
waters." "A treaty concluded on such terms would be but an armistice."
But after the note had been prepared and dispatched, profound
discouragement reigned in the American hotel. Even Gallatin, usually
hopeful and philosophically serene, grew despondent. "Our negotiations
may be considered at an end," he wrote to Monroe; "Great Britain wants
war in order to cripple us. She wants aggrandizement at our expense....
I do not expect to be longer than three weeks in Europe." The
commissioners notified their landlord that they would give up their
quarters on the 1st of October; yet they lingered on week after week,
waiting for the word which would close negotiations and send them home.

Meantime the British Ministry was quite as little pleased at the
prospect. It would not do to let the impression go abroad that Great
Britain was prepared to continue the war for territorial gains. If a
rupture of the negotiations must come, Lord Castlereagh preferred to
let the Americans shoulder the responsibility. He therefore instructed
Gambier not to insist on the independent Indian territory and the
control of the Lakes. These points were no longer to be "ultimata" but
only matters for discussion. The British commissioners were to insist,
however, on articles providing for the pacification of the Indians.

Should the Americans yield this sine qua non, now that the first had
been withdrawn? Adams thought not, decidedly not; he would rather break
off negotiations than admit the right of Great Britain to interfere with
the Indians dwelling within the limits of the United States. Gallatin
remarked that after all it was a very small point to insist on, when a
slight concession would win much more important points. "Then, said I
[Adams], with a movement of impatience and an angry tone, it is a good
point to admit the British as the sovereigns and protectors of our
Indians? Gallatin's face brightened, and he said in a tone of perfect
good-humor, 'That's a non-sequitur.' This turned the edge of the
argument into jocularity. I laughed, and insisted that it was a
sequitur, and the conversation easily changed to another point."
Gallatin had his way with the rest of the commission and drafted the
note of the 26th of September, which, while refusing to recognize the
Indians as sovereign nations in the treaty, proposed a stipulation that
would leave them in possession of their former lands and rights. This
solution of a perplexing problem was finally accepted after another
exchange of notes and another earnest discussion at the American hotel,
where Gallatin again poured oil on the troubled waters. Concession begat
concession. New instructions from President Madison now permitted the
commissioners to drop the demand for the abolition of impressments and
blockades; and, with these difficult matters swept away, the path to
peace was much easier to travel.

Such was the outlook for peace when news reached Ghent of the
humiliating rout at Bladensburg. The British newspapers were full of
jubilant comments; the five crestfallen American envoys took what cold
comfort they could out of the very general condemnation of the burning
of the Capitol. Then, on the heels of this intelligence, came rumors
that the British invasion of New York had failed and that Prevost's army
was in full retreat to Canada. The Americans could hardly grasp the full
significance of this British reversal: it was too good to be true. But
true it was, and their spirits rebounded.

It was at this juncture that the British commissioners presented a note,
on the 21st of October, which for the first time went to the heart
of the negotiations. War had been waged; territory had been overrun;
conquests had been made--not the anticipated conquests on either side,
to be sure, but conquests nevertheless. These were the plain facts. Now
the practical question was this: Was the treaty to be drafted on the
basis of the existing state of possession or on the basis of the status
before the war? The British note stated their case in plain unvarnished
fashion; it insisted on the status uti possidetis--the possession of
territory won by arms.

In the minds of the Americans, buoyed up by the victory at Plattsburg,
there was not the shadow of doubt as to what their answer should be;
they declined for an instant to consider any other basis for peace than
the restoration of gains on both sides. Their note was prompt, emphatic,
even blunt, and it nearly shattered the nerves of the gentlemen in
Downing Street. Had these stiffnecked Yankees no sense? Could they not
perceive the studied moderation of the terms proposed--an island or two
and a small strip of Maine--when half of Maine and the south bank of
the St. Lawrence from Plattsburg to Sackett's Harbor might have been
demanded as the price of peace?

The prospect of another year of war simply to secure a frontier
which nine out of ten Englishmen could not have identified was most
disquieting, especially in view of the prodigious cost of military
operations in North America. The Ministry was both hot and cold. At
one moment it favored continued war; at another it shrank from the
consequences; and in the end it confessed its own want of decision
by appealing to the Duke of Wellington and trying to shift the
responsibility to his broad shoulders. Would the Duke take command of
the forces in Canada? He should be invested with full diplomatic and
military powers to bring the war to an honorable conclusion.

The reply of the Iron Duke gave the Ministry another shock. He would go
to America, but he did not promise himself much success there, and he
was reluctant to leave Europe at this critical time. To speak frankly,
he had no high opinion of the diplomatic game which the Ministry was
playing at Ghent. "I confess," said he, "that I think you have no right
from the state of the war to demand any concession from America...
You have not been able to carry it into the enemy's territory,
notwithstanding your military success, and now undoubted military
superiority, and have not even cleared your own territory on the point
of attack. You cannot on any principle of equality in negotiation claim
a cession of territory excepting in exchange for other advantages which
you have in your power.... Then if this reasoning be true, why stipulate
for the uti possidetis? You can get no territory; indeed, the state of
your military operations, however creditable, does not entitle you to
demand any."

As Lord Liverpool perused this dispatch, the will to conquer oozed away.
"I think we have determined," he wrote a few days later to Castlereagh,
"if all other points can be satisfactorily settled, not to continue
the war for the purpose of obtaining or securing any acquisition of
territory." He set forth his reasons for this decision succinctly:
the unsatisfactory state of the negotiations at Vienna, the alarming
condition of France, the deplorable financial outlook in England. But
Lord Liverpool omitted to mention a still more potent factor in his
calculations--the growing impatience of the country. The American
war had ceased to be popular; it had become the graveyard of military
reputations; it promised no glory to either sailor or soldier. Now that
the correspondence of the negotiators at Ghent was made public, the
reading public might very easily draw the conclusion that the Ministry
was prolonging the war by setting up pretensions which it could
not sustain. No Ministry could afford to continue a war out of mere

Meantime, wholly in the dark as to the forces which were working in
their favor, the American commissioners set to work upon a draft of a
treaty which should be their answer to the British offer of peace on the
basis of uti possidetis. Almost at once dissensions occurred. Protracted
negotiations and enforced idleness had set their nerves on edge, and
old personal and sectional differences appeared. The two matters
which caused most trouble were the fisheries and the navigation of the
Mississippi. Adams could not forget how stubbornly his father had fought
for that article in the treaty of 1783 which had conceded to New England
fishermen, as a natural right, freedom to fish in British waters. To
a certain extent this concession had been offset by yielding to the
British the right of navigation of the Mississippi, but the latter right
seemed unimportant in the days when the Alleghanies marked the limit
of western settlement. In the quarter of a century which had elapsed,
however, the West had come into its own. It was now a powerful section
with an intensely alert consciousness of its rights and wrongs; and
among its rights it counted the exclusive control of the Father of
Waters. Feeling himself as much the champion of Western interests as
Adams did of New England fisheries, Clay refused indignantly to consent
to a renewal of the treaty provisions of 1783. But when the matter came
to a vote, he found himself with Russell in a minority. Very reluctantly
he then agreed to Gallatin's proposal, to insert in a note, rather than
in the draft itself, a paragraph to the effect that the commissioners
were not instructed to discuss the rights hitherto enjoyed in the
fisheries, since no further stipulation was deemed necessary to entitle
them to rights which were recognized by the treaty of 1783.

When the British reply to the American project was read, Adams noted
with quiet satisfaction that the reservation as to the fisheries was
passed over in silence--silence, he thought, gave consent--but Clay flew
into a towering passion when he learned that the old right of navigating
the Mississippi was reasserted. Adams was prepared to accept the British
proposals; Clay refused point blank; and Gallatin sided this time
with Clay. Could a compromise be effected between these stubborn
representatives of East and West? Gallatin tried once more. Why not
accept the British right of navigation--surely an unimportant point
after all--and ask for an express affirmation of fishery rights?
Clay replied hotly that if they were going to sacrifice the West to
Massachusetts, he would not sign the treaty. With infinite patience
Gallatin continued to play the role of peacemaker and finally brought
both these self-willed men to agree to offer a renewal of both rights.

Instead of accepting this eminently fair adjustment, the British
representatives proposed that the two disputed rights be left to future
negotiation. The suggestion caused another explosion in the ranks of the
Americans. Adams would not admit even by implication that the rights for
which his sire fought could be forfeited by war and become the subject
of negotiation. But all save Adams were ready to yield. Again Gallatin
came to the rescue. He penned a note rejecting the British offer,
because it seemed to imply the abandonment of a right; but in turn he
offered to omit in the treaty all reference to the fisheries and the
Mississippi or to include a general reference to further negotiation
of all matters still in dispute, in such a way as not to relinquish any
rights. To this solution of the difficulty all agreed, though Adams was
still torn by doubts and Clay believed that the treaty was bound to be
"damned bad" anyway.

An anxious week of waiting followed. On the 22d of December came the
British reply--a grudging acceptance of Gallatin's first proposal to
omit all reference to the fisheries and the Mississippi. Two days later
the treaty was signed in the refectory of the Carthusian monastery
where the British commissioners were quartered. Let the tired
seventeen-year-old boy who had been his father's scribe through these
long weary months describe the events of Christmas Day, 1814. "The
British delegates very civilly asked us to dinner," wrote James Gallatin
in his diary. "The roast beef and plum pudding was from England, and
everybody drank everybody else's health. The band played first God Save
the King, to the toast of the King, and Yankee Doodle, to the toast of
the President. Congratulations on all sides and a general atmosphere of
serenity; it was a scene to be remembered. God grant there may be always
peace between the two nations. I never saw father so cheerful; he was in
high spirits, and his witty conversation was much appreciated." *

     * "A Great Peace Maker: The Dairy of James Gallatin" (1914).
     p. 36.

Peace! That was the outstanding achievement of the American
commissioners at Ghent. Measured by the purposes of the war-hawks of
1812, measured by the more temperate purposes of President Madison, the
Treaty of Ghent was a confession of national weakness and humiliating
failure. Clay, whose voice had been loudest for war and whose kindling
fancy had pictured American armies dictating terms of surrender at
Quebec, set his signature to a document which redressed not a single
grievance and added not a foot of territory to the United States.
Adams, who had denounced Great Britain for the crime of "man-stealing,"
accepted a treaty of peace which contained not a syllable about
impressment. President Madison, who had reluctantly accepted war as the
last means of escape from the blockade of American ports and the ruin
of neutral trade, recommended the ratification of a convention which did
not so much as mention maritime questions and the rights of neutrals.

Peace--and nothing more? Much more, indeed, than appears in rubrics on
parchment. The Treaty of Ghent must be interpreted in the light of more
than a hundred years of peace between the two great branches of the
English-speaking race. More conscious of their differences than anything
else, no doubt, these eight peacemakers at Ghent nevertheless spoke a
common tongue and shared a common English trait: they laid firm hold on
realities. Like practical men they faced the year 1815 and not 1812. In
a pacified Europe rid of the Corsican, questions of maritime practice
seemed dead issues. Let the dead past bury its dead! To remove possible
causes of future controversy seemed wiser statesmanship than to rake
over the embers of quarrels which might never be rekindled. So it
was that in prosaic articles they provided for three commissions to
arbitrate boundary controversies at critical points in the far-flung
frontier between Canada and the United States, and thus laid the
foundations of an international accord which has survived a hundred


It fell to the last, and perhaps least talented, President of the
Virginia Dynasty to consummate the work of Jefferson and Madison by a
final settlement with Spain which left the United States in possession
of the Floridas. In the diplomatic service James Monroe had exhibited
none of those qualities which warranted the expectation that he would
succeed where his predecessors had failed. On his missions to England
and Spain, indeed, he had been singularly inept, but he had learned much
in the rude school of experience, and he now brought to his new duties
discretion, sobriety, and poise. He was what the common people held
him to be a faithful public servant, deeply and sincerely republican,
earnestly desirous to serve the country which he loved.

The circumstances of Monroe's election pledged him to a truly national
policy. He had received the electoral votes of all but three States. *
He was now President of an undivided country, not merely a Virginian
fortuitously elevated to the chief magistracy and regarded as alien in
sympathy to the North and East. Any doubts on this point were dispelled
by the popular demonstrations which greeted him on his tour through
Federalist strongholds in the Northeast. "I have seen enough," he wrote
in grateful recollection, "to satisfy me that the great mass of our
fellow-citizens in the Eastern States are as firmly attached to the
union and republican government as I have always believed or could
desire them to be." The news-sheets which followed his progress from
day to day coined the phrase, "era of good feeling," which has passed
current ever since as a characterization of his administration.

     * Monroe received 183 electoral votes and Rufus King, 34--
     the votes of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Delaware.

It was in this admirable temper and with this broad national outlook
that Monroe chose his advisers and heads of departments. He was
well aware of the common belief that his predecessors had appointed
Virginians to the Secretaryship of State in order to prepare the way
for their succession to the Presidency. He was determined, therefore,
to avert the suspicion of sectional bias by selecting some one from the
Eastern States, rather than from the South or from the West, hitherto
so closely allied to the South. His choice fell upon John Quincy Adams,
"who by his age, long experience in our foreign affairs, and adoption
into the Republican party," he assured Jefferson, "seems to have
superior pretentions." It was an excellent appointment from every point
of view but one. Monroe had overlooked--and the circumstance did
him infinite credit--the exigencies of politics and passed over an
individual whose vaulting ambition had already made him an aspirant to
the Presidency. Henry Clay was grievously disappointed and henceforward
sulked in his tent, refusing the Secretaryship of War which the
President tendered. Eventually the brilliant young John C. Calhoun took
this post. This South Carolinian was in the prime of life, full of
fire and dash, ardently patriotic, and nationally-minded to an
unusual degree. Of William H. Crawford of Georgia, who retained the
Secretaryship of the Treasury, little need be said except that he also
was a presidential aspirant who saw things always from the angle of
political expediency. Benjamin W. Crowninshield as Secretary of the
Navy and William Wirt as Attorney-General completed the circle of the
President's intimate advisers.

The new Secretary of State had not been in office many weeks before he
received a morning call from Don Luis de Onis, the Spanish Minister, who
was laboring under ill-disguised excitement. It appeared that his house
in Washington had been repeatedly "insulted" of late-windows broken,
lamps in front of the house smashed, and one night a dead fowl tied to
his bell-rope. This last piece of vandalism had been too much for his
equanimity. He held it a gross insult to his sovereign and the Spanish
monarchy, importing that they were of no more consequence than a dead
old hen! Adams, though considerably amused, endeavored to smooth the
ruffled pride of the chevalier by suggesting that these were probably
only the tricks of some mischievous boys; but De Onis was not easily
appeased. Indeed, as Adams was himself soon to learn, the American
public did regard the Spanish monarchy as a dead old hen, and took no
pains to disguise its contempt. Adams had yet to learn the long train
of circumstances which made Spanish relations the most delicate and
difficult of all the diplomatic problems in his office.

With his wonted industry, Adams soon made himself master of the facts
relating to Spanish diplomacy. For the moment interest centered on
East Florida. Carefully unraveling the tangled skein of events, Adams
followed the thread which led back to President Madison's secret message
to Congress of January 3,1811, which was indeed one of the landmarks in
American policy. Madison had recommended a declaration "that the
United States could not see without serious inquietude any part of
a neighboring territory [like East Florida] in which they have in
different respects so deep and so just a concern pass from the hands of
Spain into those of any other foreign power." To prevent the possible
subversion of Spanish authority in East Florida and the occupation of
the province by a foreign power--Great Britain was, of course, the power
the President had in mind--he had urged Congress to authorize him to
take temporary possession "in pursuance of arrangements which may
be desired by the Spanish authorities." Congress had responded with
alacrity and empowered the President to occupy East Florida in case the
local authorities should consent or a foreign power should attempt to
occupy it.

With equal dispatch the President had sent two agents, General George
Matthews and Colonel John McKee, on one of the strangest missions in the
border history of the United States.

East Florida--Adams found, pursuing his inquiries into the archives of
the department--included the two important ports of entry, Pensacola on
the Gulf and Fernandina on Amelia Island, at the mouth of the St. Mary's
River. The island had long been a notorious resort for smugglers. Hither
had come British and American vessels with cargoes of merchandise and
slaves, which found their way in mysterious fashion to consignees within
the States. A Spanish garrison of ten men was the sole custodian of law
and order on the island. Up and down the river was scattered a lawless
population of freebooters, who were equally ready to raid a border
plantation or to raise the Jolly Roger on some piratical cruise. To this
No Man's Land--fertile recruiting ground for all manner of filibustering
expeditions--General Matthews and Colonel McKee had betaken themselves
in the spring of 1811, bearing some explicit instructions from President
Madison but also some very pronounced convictions as to what they
were expected to accomplish. Matthews, at least, understood that the
President wished a revolution after the West Florida model. He assured
the Administration-Adams read the precious missive in the files of his
office-that he could do the trick. Only let the Government consign two
hundred stand of arms and fifty horsemen's swords to the commander at
St. Mary's, and he would guarantee to put the revolution through without
committing the United States in any way.

The melodrama had been staged for the following spring (1812). Some two
hundred "patriots" recruited from the border people gathered near St.
Mary's with souls yearning for freedom; and while American gunboats
took a menacing position, this force of insurgents had landed on Amelia
Island and summoned the Spanish commandant to surrender. Not willing
to spoil the scene by vulgar resistance, the commandant capitulated and
marched out his garrison, ten strong, with all the honors of war. The
Spanish flag had been hauled down to give place to the flag of the
insurgents, bearing the inspiring motto Salus populi--suprema lex.
Then General Matthews with a squad of regular United States troops had
crossed the river and taken possession. Only the benediction of the
Government at Washington was lacking to make the success of his mission
complete; but to the general's consternation no approving message
came, only a peremptory dispatch disavowing his acts and revoking his

As Adams reviewed these events, he could see no other alternative
for the Government to have pursued at this moment when war with Great
Britain was impending. It would have been the height of folly to break
openly with Spain. The Administration had indeed instructed its new
agent, Governor Mitchell of Georgia, to restore the island to the
Spanish commandant and to withdraw his troops, if he could do so without
sacrificing the insurgents to the vengeance of the Spaniards. But the
forces set in motion by Matthews were not so easily controlled from
Washington. Once having resolved to liberate East Florida, the patriots
were not disposed to retire at the nod of the Secretary of State. The
Spanish commandant was equally obdurate. He would make no promise to
spare the insurgents. The Legislature of Georgia, too, had a mind of its
own. It resolved that the occupation of East Florida was essential
to the safety of the State, whether Congress approved or no; and the
Governor, swept along in the current of popular feeling, summoned troops
from Savannah to hold the province. Just at this moment had come
the news of war with Great Britain; and Governor, State militia, and
patriots had combined in an effort to prevent East Florida from becoming
enemy's territory.

Military considerations had also swept the Administration along the same
hazardous course. The occupation of the Floridas seemed imperative. The
President sought authorization from Congress to occupy and govern both
the Floridas until the vexed question of title could be settled by
negotiation. Only a part of this programme had carried, for, while
Congress was prepared to approve the military occupation of West Florida
to the Perdido River, beyond that it would not go; and so with great
reluctance the President had ordered the troops to withdraw from Amelia
Island. In the spring of the same year (1813) General Wilkinson had
occupied West Florida--the only permanent conquest of the war and that,
oddly enough, the conquest of a territory owned and held by a power with
which the United States was not at war.

Abandoned by the American troops, Amelia Island had become a rendezvous
for outlaws from every part of the Americas. Just about the time
that Adams was crossing the ocean to take up his duties at the State
Department, one of these buccaneers by the name of Gregor MacGregor
descended upon the island as "Brigadier General of the Armies of the
United Provinces of New Granada and Venezuela, and General-in-chief of
that destined to emancipate the provinces of both Floridas, under the
commission of the Supreme Government of Mexico and South America." This
pirate was soon succeeded by General Aury, who had enjoyed a wild career
among the buccaneers of Galveston Bay, where he had posed as military
governor under the Republic of Mexico. East Florida in the hands of such
desperadoes was a menace to the American border. Approaching the problem
of East Florida without any of the prepossessions of those who had been
dealing with Spanish envoys for a score of years, the new Secretary of
State was prepared to move directly to his goal without any too great
consideration for the feelings of others. His examination of the facts
led him to a clean-cut decision: this nest of pirates must be broken up
at once. His energy carried President and Cabinet along with him. It was
decided to send troops and ships to the St. Mary's and if necessary to
invest Fernandina. This demonstration of force sufficed; General Aury
departed to conquer new worlds, and Amelia Island was occupied for the
second time without bloodshed.

But now, having grasped the nettle firmly, what was the Administration
to do with it? De Onis promptly registered his protest; the opposition
in Congress seized upon the incident to worry the President; many of
the President's friends thought that he had been precipitate. Monroe,
indeed, would have been glad to withdraw the troops now that they had
effected their object, but Adams was for holding the island in order to
force Spain to terms. With a frankness which lacerated the feelings of
De Onis, Adams insisted that the United States had acted strictly on the
defensive. The occupation of Amelia Island was not an act of aggression
but a necessary measure for the protection of commerce--American
commerce, the commerce of other nations, the commerce of Spain itself.
Now why not put an end to all friction by ceding the Floridas to the
United States? What would Spain take for all her possessions east of
the Mississippi, Adams asked. De Onis declined to say. Well, then, Adams
pursued, suppose the United States should withdraw from Amelia
Island, would Spain guarantee that it should not be occupied again by
free-booters? No: De Onis could give no such guarantee, but he would
write to the Governor of Havana to ascertain if he would send an
adequate garrison to Fernandina. Adams reported this significant
conversation to the President, who was visibly shaken by the conflict of
opinions within his political household and not a little alarmed at the
possibility of war with Spain. The Secretary of State was coolly taking
the measure of his chief. "There is a slowness, want of decision, and a
spirit of procrastination in the President," he confided to his diary.
He did not add, but the thought was in his mind, that he could sway
this President, mold him to his heart's desire. In this first trial of
strength the hardier personality won: Monroe sent a message to Congress,
on January 13, 1818, announcing his intention to hold East Florida for
the present, and the arguments which he used to justify this bold course
were precisely those of his Secretary of State.

When Adams suggested that Spain might put an end to all her worries by
ceding the Floridas, he was only renewing an offer that Monroe had made
while he was still Secretary of State. De Onis had then declared that
Spain would never cede territory east of the Mississippi unless the
United States would relinquish its claims west of that river. Now,
to the new Secretary, De Onis intimated that he was ready to be less
exacting. He would be willing to run the line farther west and allow the
United States a large part of what is now the State of Louisiana. Adams
made no reply to this tentative proposal but bided his time; and time
played into his hands in unexpected ways.

To the Secretary's office, one day in June, 1818, came a letter from De
Onis which was a veritable firebrand. De Onis, who was not unnaturally
disposed to believe the worst of Americans on the border, had heard that
General Andrew Jackson in pursuit of the Seminole Indians had crossed
into Florida and captured Pensacola and St. Mark's. He demanded to be
informed "in a positive, distinct and explicit manner just what had
occurred"; and then, outraged by confirmatory reports and without
waiting for Adams's reply, he wrote another angry letter, insisting upon
the restitution of the captured forts and the punishment of the American
general. Worse tidings followed. Bagot, the British Minister, had heard
that Jackson had seized and executed two British subjects on Spanish
soil. Would the Secretary of State inform him whether General Jackson
had been authorized to take Pensacola, and would the Secretary furnish
him with copies of the reports of the courts-martial which had condemned
these two subjects of His Majesty? Adams could only reply that he lacked
official information.

By the second week in July, dispatches from General Jackson confirmed
the worst insinuations and accusations of De Onis and Bagot. President
Monroe was painfully embarrassed. Prompt disavowal of the general's
conduct seemed the only way to avert war; but to disavow the acts of
this popular idol, the victor of New Orleans, was no light matter. He
sought the advice of his Cabinet and was hardly less embarrassed to
find all but one convinced that "Old Hickory" had acted contrary to
instructions and had committed acts of hostility against Spain. A week
of anxious Cabinet sessions followed, in which only one voice was raised
in defense of the invasion of Florida. All but Adams feared war, a war
which the opposition would surely brand as incited by the President
without the consent of Congress. No administration could carry on a war
begun in violation of the Constitution, said Calhoun. But, argued Adams,
the President may authorize defensive acts of hostility. Jackson had
been authorized to cross the frontier, if necessary, in pursuit of the
Indians, and all the ensuing deplorable incidents had followed as a
necessary consequence of Indian warfare.

The conclusions of the Cabinet were summed up by Adams in a reply to
De Onis, on the 23d of July, which must have greatly astonished that
diligent defender of Spanish honor. Opening the letter to read, as he
confidently expected, a disavowal and an offer of reparation, he found
the responsibility for the recent unpleasant incidents fastened upon his
own country. He was reminded that by the treaty of 1795 both Governments
had contracted to restrain the Indians within their respective borders,
so that neither should suffer from hostile raids, and that the Governor
of Pensacola, when called upon to break up a stronghold of Indians and
fugitive slaves, had acknowledged his obligation but had pleaded his
inability to carry out the covenant. Then, and then only, had General
Jackson been authorized to cross the border and to put an end to
outrages which the Spanish authorities lacked the power to prevent.
General Jackson had taken possession of the Spanish forts on his
own responsibility when he became convinced of the duplicity of the
commandant, who, indeed, had made himself "a partner and accomplice of
the hostile Indians and of their foreign instigators." Such conduct on
the part of His Majesty's officer justified the President in calling
for his punishment. But, in the meantime, the President was prepared to
restore Pensacola, and also St. Mark's, whenever His Majesty should send
a force sufficiently strong to hold the Indians under control.

Nor did the Secretary of State moderate his tone or abate his demands
when Pizarro, the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, threatened
to suspend negotiations with the United States until it should give
satisfaction for this "shameful invasion of His Majesty's territory" and
for these "acts of barbarity glossed over with the forms of justice." In
a dispatch to the American Minister at Madrid, Adams vigorously defended
Jackson's conduct from beginning to end. The time had come, said he,
when "Spain must immediately make her election either to place a force
in Florida adequate at once to the protection of her territory and
to the fulfilment of her engagements or cede to the United States a
province of which she retains nothing but the nominal possession, but
which is in fact a derelict, open to the occupancy of every enemy,
civilized or savage, of the United States and serving no other earthly
purpose, than as a post of annoyance to them."

This affront to Spanish pride might have ended abruptly a chapter in
Spanish-American diplomacy but for the friendly offices of Hyde de
Neuville, the French Minister at Washington, whose Government could
not view without alarm the possibility of a rupture between the two
countries. It was Neuville who labored through the summer months of this
year, first with Adams, then with De Onis, tempering the demands of the
one and placating the pride of the other, but never allowing intercourse
to drop. Adams was right, and both Neuville and De Onis knew it; the
only way to settle outstanding differences was to cede these Spanish
derelicts in the New World to the United States.

To bring and keep together these two antithetical personalities,
representatives of two opposing political systems, was no small
achievement. What De Onis thought of his stubborn opponent may be
surmised; what the American thought of the Spaniard need not be left to
conjecture. In the pages of his diary Adams painted the portrait of his
adversary as he saw him--"cold, calculating, wily, always commanding
his temper, proud because he is a Spaniard but supple and cunning,
accommodating the tone of his pretensions precisely to the degree of
endurance of his opponents, bold and overbearing to the utmost extent to
which it is tolerated, careless of what he asserts or how grossly it is
proved to be unfounded."

The history of the negotiations running through the fall and winter is
a succession of propositions and counter-propositions, made formally by
the chief participants or tentatively and informally through Neuville.
The western boundary of the Louisiana purchase was the chief obstacle to
agreement. Each sparred for an advantage; each made extreme claims; and
each was persuaded to yield a little here and a little there, slowly
narrowing the bounds of the disputed territory. More than once the
President and the Cabinet believed that the last concession had been
extorted and were prepared to yield on other matters. When the President
was prepared, for example, to accept the hundredth meridian and the
forty-third parallel, Adams insisted on demanding the one hundred and
second and the forty-second; and "after a long and violent struggle,"
wrote Adams, "he [De Onis]. .. agreed to take longitude one hundred from
the Red River to the Arkansas, and latitude forty-two from the source of
the Arkansas to the South Sea." This was a momentous decision, for the
United States acquired thus whatever claim Spain had to the northwest
coast but sacrificed its claim to Texas for the possession of the

Vexatious questions still remained to be settled. The spoliation claims
which were to have been adjusted by the convention of 1802 were
finally left to a commission, the United States agreeing to assume all
obligations to an amount not exceeding five million dollars. De Onis
demurred at stating this amount in the treaty: he would be blamed for
having betrayed the honor of Spain by selling the Floridas for a paltry
five millions. To which Adams replied dryly that he ought to boast of
his bargain instead of being ashamed of it, since it was notorious
that the Floridas had always been a burden to the Spanish exchequer.
Negotiations came to a standstill again when Adams insisted that certain
royal grants of land in the Floridas should be declared null and void.
He feared, and not without reason, that these grants would deprive the
United States of the domain which was to be used to pay the indemnities
assumed in the treaty. De Onis resented the demand as "offensive to
the dignity and imprescriptible rights of the Crown of Spain"; and
once again Neuville came to the rescue of the treaty and persuaded both
parties to agree to a compromise. On the understanding that the royal
grants in question had been made subsequent to January 24, 1818, Adams
agreed that all grants made since that date (when the first proposal was
made by His Majesty for the cession of the Floridas) should be declared
null and void; and that all grants made before that date should be

On the anniversary of Washington's birthday, De Onis and Adams signed
the treaty which carried the United States to its natural limits on
the southeast. The event seemed to Adams to mark "a great epocha in our
history." "It was near one in the morning," he recorded in his diary,
"when I closed the day with ejaculations of fervent gratitude to
the Giver of all good. It was, perhaps, the most important day of my
life.... Let no idle and unfounded exultation take possession of my
mind, as if I would ascribe to my own foresight or exertions any portion
of the event." But misgivings followed hard on these joyous reflections.
The treaty had still to be ratified, and the disposition of the Spanish
Cortes was uncertain. There was, too, considerable opposition in the
Senate. "A watchful eye, a resolute purpose, a calm and patient temper,
and a favoring Providence will all be as indispensable for the future
as they have been for the past in the management of this negotiation,"
Adams reminded himself. He had need of all these qualities in the trying
months that followed.


The decline and fall of the Spanish Empire does not challenge the
imagination like the decline and fall of that other Empire with which
alone it can be compared, possibly because no Gibbon has chronicled its
greatness. Yet its dissolution affected profoundly the history of three
continents. While the Floridas were slipping from the grasp of Spain,
the provinces to the south were wrenching themselves loose, with
protestations which penetrated to European chancelleries as well as to
American legislative halls. To Czar Alexander and Prince Metternich,
sponsors for the Holy Alliance and preservers of the peace of Europe,
these declarations of independence contained the same insidious
philosophy of revolution which they had pledged themselves everywhere
to combat. To simple American minds, the familiar words liberty and
independence in the mouths of South American patriots meant what they
had to their own grandsires, struggling to throw off the shackles of
British imperial control. Neither Europe nor America, however, knew the
actual conditions in these newborn republics below the equator; and both
governed their conduct by their prepossessions.

To the typically American mind of Henry Clay, now untrammeled by
any sense of responsibility, for he was a free lance in the House of
Representatives once more, the emancipation of South America was a
thrilling and sublime spectacle--"the glorious spectacle of eighteen
millions of people struggling to burst their chains and to be free."
In a memorable speech in 1818 he had expressed the firm conviction that
there could be but one outcome to this struggle. Independent these South
American states would be. Equally clear to his mind was their political
destiny. Whatever their forms of government, they would be animated by
an American feeling and guided by an American policy. "They will obey
the laws of the system of the new world, of which they will compose a
part, in contradistinction to that of Europe." To this struggle and to
this destiny the United States could not remain indifferent. He would
not have the Administration depart from its policy of strict and
impartial neutrality but he would urge the expediency--nay, the
justice--of recognizing established governments in Spanish America.
Such recognition was not a breach of neutrality, for it did not imply
material aid in the wars of liberation but only the moral sympathy of a
great free people for their southern brethren.

Contrasted with Clay's glowing enthusiasm, the attitude of the
Administration, directed by the prudent Secretary of State, seemed cold,
calculating, and rigidly conventional. For his part, Adams could see
little resemblance between these revolutions in South America and
that of 1776. Certainly it had never been disgraced by such acts of
buccaneering and piracy as were of everyday occurrence in South American
waters. The United States had contended for civil rights and then for
independence; in South America civil rights had been ignored by all
parties. He could discern neither unity of cause nor unity of effort
in the confused history of recent struggles in South America; and until
orderly government was achieved, with due regard to fundamental civil
rights, he would not have the United States swerve in the slightest
degree from the path of strict neutrality. Mr. Clay, he observed in
his diary, had "mounted his South American great horse... to control or
overthrow the executive."

President Monroe, however, was more impressionable, more responsive
to popular opinion, and at this moment (as the presidential year
approached) more desirous to placate the opposition. He agreed with
Adams that the moment had not come when the United States alone might
safely recognize the South American states, but he believed that
concerted action by the United States and Great Britain might win
recognition without wounding the sensibilities of Spain. The time was
surely not far distant when Spain would welcome recognition as a relief
from an impoverishing and hopeless war. Meanwhile the President
coupled professions of neutrality and expressions of sympathy for the
revolutionists in every message to Congress.

The temporizing policy of the Administration aroused Clay to another
impassioned plea for those southern brethren whose hearts--despite all
rebuffs from the Department of State--still turned toward the United
States. "We should become the center of a system which would constitute
the rallying point of human freedom against the despotism of the Old
World.... Why not proceed to act on our own responsibility and recognize
these governments as independent, instead of taking the lead of the
Holy Alliance in a course which jeopardizes the happiness of unborn
millions?" He deprecated this deference to foreign powers. "If Lord
Castlereagh says we may recognize, we do; if not, we do not.... Our
institutions now make us free; but how long shall we continue so, if we
mold our opinions on those of Europe? Let us break these commercial
and political fetters; let us no longer watch the nod of any European
politician; let us become real and true Americans, and place ourselves
at the head of the American system."

The question of recognition was thus thrust into the foreground of
discussion at a most inopportune time. The Florida treaty had not yet
been ratified, for reasons best known to His Majesty the King of Spain,
and the new Spanish Minister, General Vives, had just arrived in the
United States to ask for certain explanations. The Administration
had every reason at this moment to wish to avoid further causes of
irritation to Spanish pride. It is more than probable, indeed, that Clay
was not unwilling to embarrass the President and his Secretary of State.
He still nursed his personal grudge against the President and he did not
disguise his hostility to the treaty. What aroused his resentment was
the sacrifice of Texas for Florida. Florida would have fallen to the
United States eventually like ripened fruit, he believed. Why, then,
yield an incomparably richer and greater territory for that which was
bound to become theirs whenever the American people wished to take it?

But what were the explanations which Vives demanded? Weary hours spent
in conference with the wily Spaniard convinced Adams that the great
obstacle to the ratification of the treaty by Spain had been the
conviction that the United States was only waiting ratification to
recognize the independence of the Spanish colonies. Bitterly did Adams
regret the advances which he had made to Great Britain, at the
instance of the President, and still more bitterly did he deplore those
paragraphs in the President's messages which had expressed an all too
ready sympathy with the aims of the insurgents. But regrets availed
nothing and the Secretary of State had to put the best face possible on
the policy of the Administration. He told Vives in unmistakable language
that the United States could not subscribe to "new engagements as the
price of obtaining the ratification of the old." Certainly the United
States would not comply with the Spanish demand and pledge itself
"to form no relations with the pretended governments of the revolted
provinces of Spain." As for the royal grants which De Onis had agreed to
call null and void, if His Majesty insisted upon their validity, perhaps
the United States might acquiesce for an equivalent area west of the
Sabine River. In some alarm Vives made haste to say that the King
did not insist upon the confirmation of these grants. In the end he
professed himself satisfied with Mr. Adams's explanations; he would send
a messenger to report to His Majesty and to secure formal authorization
to exchange ratifications.

Another long period of suspense followed. The Spanish Cortes did not
advise the King to accept the treaty until October; the Senate did not
reaffirm its ratification until the following February; and it was two
years to a day after the signing of the treaty that Adams and Vives
exchanged formal ratifications. Again Adams confided to the pages of his
diary, so that posterity might read, the conviction that the hand of an
Overruling Providence was visible in this, the most important event of
his life.

If, as many thought, the Administration had delayed recognition of the
South American republics in order not to offend Spanish feelings while
the Florida treaty was under consideration, it had now no excuse for
further hesitation; yet it was not until March 8, 1822, that President
Monroe announced to Congress his belief that the time had come when
those provinces of Spain which had declared their independence and were
in the enjoyment of it should be formally recognized. On the 19th of
June he received the accredited charge d'affaires of the Republic of

The problem of recognition was not the only one which the impending
dissolution of the Spanish colonial empire left to harass the Secretary
of State. Just because Spain had such vast territorial pretensions and
held so little by actual occupation on the North American continent,
there was danger that these shadowy claims would pass into the hands of
aggressive powers with the will and resources to aggrandize themselves.
One day in January, 1821, while Adams was awaiting the outcome of his
conferences with Vives, Stratford Canning, the British Minister,
was announced at his office. Canning came to protest against what
he understood was the decision of the United States to extend its
settlements at the mouth of the Columbia River. Adams replied that he
knew of no such determination; but he deemed it very probable that the
settlements on the Pacific coast would be increased. Canning expressed
rather ill-matured surprise at this statement, for he conceived that
such a policy would be a palpable violation of the Convention of 1818.
Without replying, Adams rose from his seat to procure a copy of the
treaty and then read aloud the parts referring to the joint occupation
of the Oregon country. A stormy colloquy followed in which both
participants seem to have lost their tempers. Next day Canning returned
to the attack, and Adams challenged the British claim to the mouth of
the Columbia. "Why," exclaimed Canning, "do you not KNOW that we have a
claim?" "I do not KNOW," said Adams, "what you claim nor what you do not
claim. You claim India; you claim Africa; you claim--" "Perhaps," said
Canning, "a piece of the moon." "No," replied Adams, "I have not heard
that you claim exclusively any part of the moon; but there is not a spot
on THIS habitable globe that I could affirm you do not claim; and there
is none which you may not claim with as much color of right as you can
have to Columbia River or its mouth."

With equal sang-froid, the Secretary of State met threatened aggression
from another quarter. In September of this same year, the Czar issued
a ukase claiming the Pacific coast as far south as the fifty-first
parallel and declaring Bering Sea closed to the commerce of other
nations. Adams promptly refused to recognize these pretensions and
declared to Baron de Tuyll, the Russian Minister, "that we should
contest the right of Russia to ANY territorial establishment on this
continent, and that we should assume distinctly the principle that the
American continents are no longer subjects for any new European colonial
establishments." *

     * Before Adams retired from office, he had the satisfaction
     of concluding a treaty (1824) with Russia by which the Czar
     abandoned his claims to exclusive jurisdiction in Bering Sea
     and agreed to plant no colonies on the Pacific Coast south
     of 54 degrees 40 minutes.

Not long after this interview Adams was notified by Baron Tuyll that
the Czar, in conformity with the political principles of the allies, had
determined in no case whatever to receive any agent from the Government
of the Republic of Colombia or from any other government which owed its
existence to the recent events in the New World. Adams's first impulse
was to pen a reply that would show the inconsistency between these
political principles and the unctuous professions of Christian duty
which had resounded in the Holy Alliance; but the note which he drafted
was, perhaps fortunately, not dispatched until it had been revised
by President and Cabinet a month later, under stress of other

At still another focal point the interests of the United States ran
counter to the covetous desires of European powers. Cuba, the choicest
of the provinces of Spain, still remained nominally loyal; but, should
the hold of Spain upon this Pearl of the Antilles relax, every maritime
power would swoop down upon it. The immediate danger, however, was not
that revolution would here as elsewhere sever the province from Spain,
leaving it helpless and incapable of self-support, but that France,
after invading Spain and restoring the monarchy, would also intervene
in the affairs of her provinces. The transfer of Cuba to France by
the grateful King was a possibility which haunted the dreams of George
Canning at Westminster as well as of John Quincy Adams at Washington.
The British Foreign Minister attempted to secure a pledge from France
that she would not acquire any Spanish-American territory either by
conquest or by treaty, while the Secretary of State instructed the
American Minister to Spain not to conceal from the Spanish Government
"the repugnance of the United States to the transfer of the Island of
Cuba by Spain to any other power." Canning was equally fearful lest the
United States should occupy Cuba and he would have welcomed assurances
that it had no designs upon the island. Had he known precisely the
attitude of Adams, he would have been still more uneasy, for Adams was
perfectly sure that Cuba belonged "by the laws of political as well as
of physical gravitation" to the North American continent, though he
was not for the present ready to assist the operation of political and
physical laws.

Events were inevitably detaching Great Britain from the concert of
Europe and putting her in opposition to the policy of intervention, both
because of what it meant in Spain and what it might mean when applied
to the New World. Knowing that the United States shared these latter
apprehensions, George Canning conceived that the two countries might
join in a declaration against any project by any European power for
subjugating the colonies of South America either on behalf or in the
name of Spain. He ventured to ask Richard Rush, American Minister at
London, what his government would say to such a proposal. For his part
he was quite willing to state publicly that he believed the recovery
of the colonies by Spain to be hopeless; that recognition of their
independence was only a question of proper time and circumstance; that
Great Britain did not aim at the possession of any of them, though she
could not be indifferent to their transfer to any other power. "If," said
Canning, "these opinions and feelings are, as I firmly believe them to
be, common to your government with ours, why should we hesitate mutually
to confide them to each other; and to declare them in the face of the

Why, indeed? To Rush there occurred one good and sufficient answer,
which, however, he could not make: he doubted the disinterestedness of
Great Britain. He could only reply that he would not feel justified in
assuming the responsibility for a joint declaration unless Great Britain
would first unequivocally recognize the South American republics; and,
when Canning balked at the suggestion, he could only repeat, in as
conciliatory manner as possible, his reluctance to enter into any
engagement. Not once only but three times Canning repeated his
overtures, even urging Rush to write home for powers and instructions.

The dispatches of Rush seemed so important to President Monroe that
he sent copies of them to Jefferson and Madison, with the query--which
revealed his own attitude--whether the moment had not arrived when the
United States might safely depart from its traditional policy and meet
the proposal of the British Government. If there was one principle which
ran consistently through the devious foreign policy of Jefferson and
Madison, it was that of political isolation from Europe. "Our first and
fundamental maxim," Jefferson wrote in reply, harking back to the
old formulas, "should be never to entangle ourselves in the broils
of Europe, our second never to suffer Europe to intermeddle with
Cis-Atlantic affairs." He then continued in this wise:

"America, North and South, has a set of interests distinct from those
of Europe, and peculiarly her own. She should therefore have a system
of her own, separate and apart from that of Europe. While the last is
laboring to become the domicile of despotism, our endeavor should surely
be, to make our hemisphere that of freedom. One nation, most of all,
could disturb us in this pursuit; she now offers to lead, aid, and
accompany us in it. By acceding to her proposition, we detach her from
the band of despots, bring her mighty weight into the scale of free
government and emancipate a continent at one stroke which might
otherwise linger long in doubt and difficulty.... I am clearly of Mr.
Canning's opinion, that it will prevent, instead of provoking war. With
Great Britain withdrawn from their scale and shifted into that of our
two continents, all Europe combined would not undertake such a war....
Nor is the occasion to be slighted which this proposition offers, of
declaring our protest against the atrocious violations of the rights
of nations, by the interference of any one in the internal affairs of
another, so flagitiously begun by Buonaparte, and now continued by the
equally lawless alliance, calling itself Holy."

Madison argued the case with more reserve but arrived at the same
conclusion: "There ought not to be any backwardness therefore, I think,
in meeting her [England] in the way she has proposed." The dispatches
of Rush produced a very different effect, however, upon the Secretary of
State, whose temperament fed upon suspicion and who now found plenty
of food for thought both in what Rush said and in what he did not say.
Obviously Canning was seeking a definite compact with the United States
against the designs of the allies, not out of any altruistic motive but
for selfish ends. Great Britain, Rush had written bluntly, had as little
sympathy with popular rights as it had on the field of Lexington. It
was bent on preventing France from making conquests, not on making South
America free. Just so, Adams reasoned: Canning desires to secure from
the United States a public pledge "ostensibly against the forcible
interference of the Holy Alliance between Spain and South America;
but really or especially against the acquisition to the United States
themselves of any part of the Spanish-American possessions." By
joining with Great Britain we would give her a "substantial and perhaps
inconvenient pledge against ourselves, and really obtain nothing in
return." He believed that it would be more candid and more dignified
to decline Canning's overtures and to avow our principles explicitly to
Russia and France. For his part he did not wish the United States "to
come in as a cock-boat in the wake of the British man-of-war!"

Thus Adams argued in the sessions of the Cabinet, quite ignorant of the
correspondence which had passed between the President and his mentors.
Confident of his ability to handle the situation, he asked no more
congenial task than to draft replies to Baron Tuyll and to Canning and
instructions to the ministers at London, St. Petersburg, and Paris;
but he impressed upon Monroe the necessity of making all these
communications "part of a combined system of policy and adapted to each
other." Not so easily, however, was the President detached from the
influence of the two Virginia oracles. He took sharp exception to the
letter which Adams drafted in reply to Baron Tuyll, saying that he
desired to refrain from any expressions which would irritate the Czar;
and thus turned what was to be an emphatic declaration of principles
into what Adams called "the tamest of state papers."

The Secretary's draft of instructions to Rush had also to run the
gauntlet of amendment by the President and his Cabinet; but it emerged
substantially unaltered in content and purpose. Adams professed to find
common ground with Great Britain, while pointing out with much subtlety
that if she believed the recovery of the colonies by Spain was
really hopeless, she was under moral obligation to recognize them as
independent states and to favor only such an adjustment between them and
the mother country as was consistent with the fact of independence. The
United States was in perfect accord with the principles laid down by Mr.
Canning: it desired none of the Spanish possessions for itself but it
could not see with indifference any portion of them transferred to any
other power. Nor could the United States see with indifference "any
attempt by one or more powers of Europe to restore those new states to
the crown of Spain, or to deprive them, in any manner whatever, of
the freedom and independence which they have acquired." But, for
accomplishing the purposes which the two governments had in common--and
here the masterful Secretary of State had his own way--it was advisable
THAT THEY SHOULD ACT SEPARATELY, each making such representations to the
continental allies as circumstances dictated.

Further communications from Baron Tuyll gave Adams the opportunity,
which he had once lost, of enunciating the principles underlying
American policy. In a masterly paper dated November 27, 1823, he
adverted to the declaration of the allied monarchs that they would never
compound with revolution but would forcibly interpose to guarantee the
tranquillity of civilized states. In such declarations "the President,"
wrote Adams, "wishes to perceive sentiments, the application of which is
limited, and intended in their results to be limited to the affairs of
Europe.... The United States of America, and their government, could not
see with indifference, the forcible interposition of any European Power,
other than Spain, either to restore the dominion of Spain over her
emancipated Colonies in America, or to establish Monarchical Governments
in those Countries, or to transfer any of the possessions heretofore or
yet subject to Spain in the American Hemisphere, to any other European

But so little had the President even yet grasped the wide sweep of the
policy which his Secretary of State was framing that, when he read
to the Cabinet a first draft of his annual message, he expressed his
pointed disapprobation of the invasion of Spain by France and urged an
acknowledgment of Greece as an independent nation. This declaration was,
as Adams remarked, a call to arms against all Europe. And once again
he urged the President to refrain from any utterance which might be
construed as a pretext for retaliation by the allies. If they meant to
provoke a quarrel with the United States, the administration must meet
it and not invite it. "If they intend now to interpose by force, we
shall have as much as we can do to prevent them," said he, "without
going to bid them defiance in the heart of Europe." "The ground I wish
to take," he continued, "is that of earnest remonstrance against the
interference of the European powers by force with South America, but to
disclaim all interference on our part with Europe; to make an American
cause and adhere inflexibly to that." In the end Adams had his way and
the President revised the paragraphs dealing with foreign affairs so as
to make them conform to Adams's desires.

No one who reads the message which President Monroe sent to Congress on
December 2, 1823, can fail to observe that the paragraphs which have an
enduring significance as declarations of policy are anticipated in
the masterly state papers of the Secretary of State. Alluding to the
differences with Russia in the Pacific Northwest, the President repeated
the principle which Adams had stated to Baron Tuyll: "The occasion has
been judged proper for asserting, as a principle in which the rights
and interests of the United States are involved, that the American
continents, by the free and independent condition which they have
assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects
for future colonization by any European powers." And the vital principle
of abstention from European affairs and of adherence to a distinctly
American system, for which Adams had contended so stubbornly, found
memorable expression in the following paragraph:

"In the wars of the European powers in matters relating to themselves we
have never taken any part, nor does it comport with our policy so to
do. It is only when our rights are invaded or seriously menaced that we
resent injuries or make preparations for our defense. With the movements
in this hemisphere we are of necessity more immediately connected,
and by causes which must be obvious to all enlightened and impartial
observers. The political system of the allied powers is essentially
different in this respect from that of America. This difference proceeds
from that which exists in their respective Governments; and to the
defense of our own, which has been achieved by the loss of so much
blood and treasure, and matured by the wisdom of their most enlightened
citizens, and under which we have enjoyed unexampled felicity, this
whole nation is devoted. We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the
amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers
to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend
their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace
and safety. With the existing colonies and dependencies of any European
power we have not interfered and shall not interfere. But with the
Governments who have declared their independence and maintained it,
and whose independence we have, on great consideration and on just
principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the
purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner
their destiny, by any European power in any other light than as the
manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States."

Later generations have read strange meanings into Monroe's message, and
have elevated into a "doctrine" those declarations of policy which had
only an immediate application. With the interpretations and applications
of a later day, this book has nothing to do. Suffice it to say that
President Monroe and his advisers accomplished their purposes; and
the evidence that they were successful is contained in a letter which
Richard Rush wrote to the Secretary of State, on December 27, 1823:

"But the most decisive blow to all despotick interference with the new
States is that which it has received in the President's Message at the
opening of Congress. It was looked for here with extraordinary interest
at this juncture, and I have heard that the British packet which left
New York the beginning of this month was instructed to wait for it
and bring it over with all speed.... On its publicity in London... the
credit of all the Spanish American securities immediately rose, and the
question of the final and complete safety of the new States from all
European coercion, is now considered as at rest."


It was in the midst of the diplomatic contest for the Floridas that
James Monroe was for the second time elected to the Presidency, with
singularly little display of partisanship. This time all the electoral
votes but one were cast for him. Of all the Presidents only George
Washington has received a unanimous vote; and to Monroe, therefore,
belongs the distinction of standing second to the Father of his Country
in the vote of electors. The single vote which Monroe failed to get fell
to his Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams. It is a circumstance of
some interest that the father of the Secretary, old John Adams, so far
forgot his Federalist antecedents that he served as Republican elector
in Massachusetts and cast his vote for James Monroe. Never since
parties emerged in the second administration of Washington had such
extraordinary unanimity prevailed.

Across this scene of political harmony, however, the Missouri
controversy cast the specter-like shadow of slavery. For the moment,
and often in after years, it seemed inevitable that parties would spring
into new vigor following sectional lines. All patriots were genuinely
alarmed. "This momentous question," wrote Jefferson, "like a fire bell
in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at
once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed, indeed, for the moment.
But this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence."

What Jefferson termed a reprieve was the settlement of the Missouri
question by the compromise of 1820. To the demands of the South that
Missouri should be admitted into the Union as a slave State, with the
constitution of her choice, the North yielded, on condition that the
rest of the Louisiana Purchase north of 36 degrees 30' should be forever
free. Henceforth slaveholders might enter Missouri and the rest of the
old province of Louisiana below her southern boundary line, but beyond
this line, into the greater Northwest, they might not take their human
chattels. To this act of settlement President Monroe gave his assent,
for he believed that further controversy would shake the Union to its
very foundations. With the angry criminations and recriminations of
North and South ringing in his ears, Jefferson had little faith in
the permanency of such a settlement. "A geographical line," said he,
"coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived
and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated;
and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper." And Madison,
usually optimistic about the future of his beloved country, indulged
only the gloomiest forebodings about slavery. Both the ex-Presidents
took what comfort they could in projects of emancipation and
deportation. Jefferson would have had slaveholders yield up slaves born
after a certain date to the guardianship of the State, which would then
provide for their removal to Santo Domingo at a proper age. Madison took
heart at the prospect opened up by the Colonization Society which he
trusted would eventually end "this dreadful calamity" of human slavery.
Fortunately for their peace of mind, neither lived to see these frail
hopes dashed to pieces.

Signs were not wanting that statesmen of the Virginia school were not to
be leaders in the new era which was dawning. On several occasions both
Madison and Monroe had shown themselves out of touch with the newer
currents of national life. Their point of view was that of the epoch
which began with the French Revolution and ended with the overthrow of
Napoleon and the pacification of Europe. Inevitably foreign affairs had
absorbed their best thought. To maintain national independence against
foreign aggression had been their constant purpose, whether the menace
came from Napoleon's designs upon Louisiana, or from British disregard
of neutral rights, or from Spanish helplessness on the frontiers of her
Empire. But now, with political and commercial independence assured,
a new direction was imparted to national endeavor. America made a
volte-face and turned to the setting sun.

During the second quarter of the nineteenth century every ounce
of national vitality went into the conquest and settlement of the
Mississippi Valley. Once more at peace with the world, Americans set
themselves to the solution of the problems which grew out of this
vast migration from the Atlantic seaboard to the interior. These were
problems of territorial organization, of distribution of public lands,
of inland trade, of highways and waterways, of revenue and appropriation
problems that focused in the offices of the Secretaries of the Treasury
and of War. And lurking behind all was the specter of slavery and

To impatient homeseekers who crossed the Alleghanies, it never occurred
to question the competence of the Federal Government to meet all their
wants. That the Government at Washington should construct and maintain
highways, improve and facilitate the navigation of inland waterways,
seemed a most reasonable expectation. What else was government for?
But these proposed activities did not seem so obviously legitimate to
Presidents of the Virginia Dynasty; not so readily could they waive
constitutional scruples. Madison felt impelled to veto a bill for
constructing roads and canals and improving waterways because he could
find nowhere in the Constitution any specific authority for the Federal
Government to embark on a policy of internal improvements. His last
message to Congress set forth his objections in detail and was designed
to be his farewell address. He would rally his party once more around
the good old Jeffersonian doctrines. Monroe felt similar doubts when he
was presented with a bill to authorize the collection of tolls on the
new Cumberland Road. In a veto message of prodigious length he, too,
harked back to the original Republican principle of strict construction
of the Constitution. The leadership which the Virginians thus refused to
take fell soon to men of more resolute character who would not let the
dead hand of legalism stand between them and their hearts' desires.

It is one of the ironies of American history that the settlement of
the Mississippi Valley and of the Gulf plains brought acute pecuniary
distress to the three great Virginians who had bent all their energies
to acquire these vast domains.. The lure of virgin soil drew men and
women in ever increasing numbers from the seaboard States. Farms that
had once sufficed were cast recklessly on the market to bring what they
would, while their owners staked their claims on new soil at a dollar
and a quarter an acre. Depreciation of land values necessarily followed
in States like Virginia; and the three ex-Presidents soon found
themselves landpoor. In common with other planters, they had invested
their surplus capital in land, only to find themselves unable to market
their crops in the trying days of the Embargo and NonIntercourse Acts.
They had suffered heavy losses from the British blockade during the war,
and they had not fully recovered from these reverses when the general
fall of prices came in 1819. Believing that they were facing only a
temporary condition, they met their difficulties by financial expedients
which in the end could only add to their burdens.

A general reluctance to change their manner of life and to practice an
intensive agriculture with diversified crops contributed, no doubt, to
the general depression of planters in the Old Dominion. Jefferson at
Monticello, Madison at Montpelier, and to a lesser extent Monroe at Oak
Hill, maintained their old establishments and still dispensed a lavish
Southern hospitality, which indeed they could hardly avoid. A former
President is forever condemned to be a public character. All kept open
house for their friends, and none could bring himself to close his door
to strangers, even when curiosity was the sole motive for intrusion.
Sorely it must have tried the soul of Mrs. Randolph to find
accommodations at Monticello for fifty uninvited and unexpected guests.
Mrs. Margaret Bayard Smith, who has left lively descriptions of life at
Montpelier, was once one of twenty-three guests. When a friend commented
on the circumstance that no less than nine strange horses were feeding
in the stables at Montpelier, Madison remarked somewhat grimly that he
was delighted with the society of the owners but could not confess to
the same enthusiasm at the presence of their horses.

Both Jefferson and Madison were victims of the indiscretion of others.
Madison was obliged to pay the debts of a son of Mrs. Madison by her
first marriage and became so financially embarrassed that he was forced
to ask President Biddle of the Bank of the United States for a long loan
of six thousand dollars--only to suffer the humiliation of a refusal.
He had then to part with some of his lands at a great sacrifice, but
he retained Montpelier and continued to reside there, though in reduced
circumstances, until his death in 1836. At about the same time Jefferson
received what he called his coup de grace. He had endorsed a note of
twenty thousand dollars for Governor Wilson C. Nicholas and upon his
becoming insolvent was held to the full amount of the note. His only
assets were his lands which would bring only a fifth of their former
price. To sell on these ruinous terms was to impoverish himself and
his family. His distress was pathetic. In desperation he applied to the
Legislature for permission to sell his property by lottery; but he was
spared this last humiliation by the timely aid of friends, who
started popular subscriptions to relieve his distress. Monroe was less
fortunate, for he was obliged to sell Oak Hill and to leave Old Virginia
forever. He died in New York City on the Fourth of July, 1831.

The latter years of Jefferson's life were cheered by the renewal of his
old friendship with John Adams, now in retirement at Quincy. Full of
pleasant reminiscence are the letters which passed between them, and
full too of allusions to the passing show. Neither had lost all interest
in politics, but both viewed events with the quiet contemplation of
old men. Jefferson was absorbed to the end in his last great hobby, the
university that was slowly taking bodily form four miles away across the
valley from Monticello. When bodily infirmities would not permit him to
ride so far, he would watch the workmen through a telescope mounted on
one of the terraces. "Crippled wrists and fingers make writing slow and
laborious," he wrote to Adams. "But while writing to you, I lose the
sense of these things in the recollection of ancient times, when youth
and health made happiness out of everything. I forget for a while
the hoary winter of age, when we can think of nothing but how to keep
ourselves warm, and how to get rid of our heavy hours until the friendly
hand of death shall rid us of all at once. Against this tedium vitae,
however, I am fortunately mounted on a hobby, which, indeed, I should
have better managed some thirty or forty years ago; but whose easy amble
is still sufficient to give exercise and amusement to an octogenary
rider. This is the establishment of a University." Alluding to certain
published letters which revived old controversies, he begged his old
friend not to allow his peace of mind to be shaken. "It would be strange
indeed, if, at our years, we were to go back an age to hunt up imaginary
or forgotten facts, to disturb the repose of affections so sweetening to
the evening of our lives."

As the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence
approached, Jefferson and Adams were besought to take part in the
celebration which was to be held in Philadelphia. The infirmities of age
rested too heavily upon them to permit their journeying so far; but they
consecrated the day anew with their lives. At noon, on the Fourth of
July, 1826, while the Liberty Bell was again sounding its old message to
the people of Philadelphia, the soul of Thomas Jefferson passed on; and
a few hours later John Adams entered into rest, with the name of his old
friend upon his lips.



Five well-known historians have written comprehensive works on the
period covered by the administrations of Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe:
John B. McMaster has stressed the social and economic aspects in "A
History of the People of the United States;" James Schouler has dwelt
upon the political and constitutional problems in his "History of the
United States of America under the Constitution;" Woodrow Wilson has
written a "History of the American People" which indeed is less a
history than a brilliant essay on history; Hermann von Holst has
construed the "Constitutional and Political History of the United States
"in terms of the slavery controversy; and Edward Channing has brought
forward his painstaking "History of the United States," touching many
phases of national life, to the close of the second war with England. To
these general histories should be added "The American Nation," edited by
Albert Bushnell Hart, three volumes of which span the administrations of
the three Virginians: E. Channing's "The Jeffersonian System" (1906); K.
C. Babcock's "The Rise of American Nationality" (1906); F. J. Turner's
"Rise of the New West" (1906).


No historian can approach this epoch without doing homage to Henry
Adams, whose "History of the United States," 9 vols. (1889-1891), is at
once a literary performance of extraordinary merit and a treasure-house
of information. Skillfully woven into the text is documentary material
from foreign archives which Adams, at great expense, had transcribed and
translated. Intimate accounts of Washington and its society may be found
in the following books: G. Gibbs, "Memoirs of the Administrations of
Washington and John Adams", 2 vols. (1846); Mrs. Margaret Bayard Smith,
"The First Forty Years of Washington Society" (1906); Anne H. Wharton,
"Social Life in the Early Republic" (1902). "The Life of Thomas
Jefferson," 3 vols. (1858), by Henry S. Randall is rich in authentic
information about the life of the great Virginia statesman but it is
marred by excessive hero-worship. Interesting side-lights on Jefferson
and his entourage are shed by his granddaughter, Sarah N. Randolph, in a
volume called "Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson" (1871).


The problems of patronage that beset President Jefferson are set forth
by Gaillard Hunt in "Office-seeking during Jefferson's Administration,"
in the "American Historical Review," vol. III, p. 271, and by Carl R.
Fish in "The Civil Service and the Patronage" (1905). There is no better
way to enter sympathetically into Jefferson's mental world than to read
his correspondence. The best edition of his writings is that by Paul
Leicester Ford. Henry Adams has collected the "Writings of Albert
Gallatin," 3 vols. (1879), and has written an admirable "Life of Albert
Gallatin" (1879). Gaillard Hunt has written a short "Life of James
Madison" (1902), and has edited his "Writings," 9 vols. (1900-1910). The
Federalist attitude toward the Administration is reflected in the "Works
of Fisher Ames," 2 vols. (1857). The intense hostility of New England
Federalists appears also in such books as Theodore Dwight's "The
Character of Thomas Jefferson, as exhibited in His Own Writings" (1839).
Franklin B. Dexter has set forth the facts relating to Abraham Bishop,
that arch-rebel against the standing order in Connecticut, in the
"Proceedings" of the Massachusetts Historical Society, March, 1906.


The larger histories of the American navy by Maclay, Spears, and Clark
describe the war with Tripoli, but by far the best account is G.
W. Allen's "Our Navy and the Barbary Corsairs" (1905), which may be
supplemented by C. O. Paullin's "Commodore John Rodgers" (1910). T.
Harris's "Life and Services of Commodore William Bainbridge" (1837)
contains much interesting information about service in the Mediterranean
and the career of this gallant commander. C. H. Lincoln has edited "The
Hull-Eaton Correspondence during the Expedition against Tripoli 1804-5"
for the Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, vol. XXI
(1911). The treaties and conventions with the Barbary States are
contained in "Treaties, Conventions, International Acts, Protocols
and Agreements between the United States of America and Other Powers,"
compiled by W. M. Malloy, 3 vols. (1910-1913).


Even after the lapse of many years, Henry Adams's account of the
purchase of Louisiana remains the best: Volumes I and II of his "History
of the United States." J. A. Robertson in his "Louisiana under the Rule
of Spain, France, and the United States," 1785-1807, 2 vols. (1911),
has brought together a mass of documents relating to the province and
territory. Barbe-Marbois, "Histoire de la Louisiana et de la Cession"
(1829), which is now accessible in translation, is the main source
of information for the French side of the negotiations. Frederick J.
Turner, in a series of articles contributed to the "American Historical
Review" (vols. II, III, VII, VIII, X), has pointed out the significance
of the diplomatic contest for the Mississippi Valley. Louis Pelzer has
written on the "Economic Factors in the Acquisition of Louisiana" in the
"Proceedings" of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, vol. VI
(1913). There is no adequate biography of either Monroe or Livingston.
T. L. Stoddard has written on "The French Revolution in San Domingo"


The vexed question of the boundaries of Louisiana is elucidated by Henry
Adams in volumes II and III of his "History of the United States." Among
the more recent studies should be mentioned the articles contributed by
Isaac J. Cox to volumes VI and X of the "Quarterly" of the Texas State
Historical Association, and an article entitled "Was Texas Included in
the Louisiana Purchase?" by John R. Ficklen in the "Publications" of the
Southern History Association, vol. V. In the first two chapters of his
"History of the Western Boundary of the Louisiana Purchase" (1914),
T. M. Marshall has given a resume of the boundary question. Jefferson
brought together the information which he possessed in "An Examination
into the boundaries of Louisiana," which was first published in 1803
and which has been reprinted by the American Philosophical Society
in "Documents relating to the Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana"
(1904). I. J. Cox has made an important contribution by his book on "The
Early Exploration of Louisiana" (1906). The constitutional questions
involved in the purchase and organization of Louisiana are reviewed at
length by E. S. Brown in "The Constitutional History of the Louisiana
Purchase, 1803-1812" (1920).


The most painstaking account of Burr's expedition is W. F. McCaleb's
"The Aaron Burr Conspiracy" (1903) which differs from Henry Adams's
version in making James Wilkinson rather than Burr the heavy villain
in the plot. Wilkinson's own account of the affair, which is thoroughly
untrustworthy, is contained in his "Memoirs of My Own Times," 3 vols.
(1816). The treasonable intrigues of Wilkinson are proved beyond doubt
by the investigations of W. R. Shepherd, "Wilkinson and the Beginnings
of the Spanish Conspiracy," in vol. IX of "The American Historical
Review," and of I. J. Cox, "General Wilkinson and His Later Intrigues
with the Spaniards," in vol. XIX of "The American Historical Review."
James Parton's "Life and Times of Aaron Burr" (1858) is a biography of
surpassing interest but must be corrected at many points by the works
already cited. William Coleman's "Collection of the Facts and the
Documents relative to the Death of Major-General Alexander Hamilton"
(1804) contains the details of the great tragedy. The Federalist
intrigues with Burr are traced by Henry Adams and more recently by S. E.
Morison in the "Life and Letters of Harrison Gray Otis," 2 vols. (1913).
W. H. Safford's "Blennerhassett Papers" (1861) and David Robertson's
"Reports of the Trials of Colonel Aaron Burr for Treason, and for a
Misdemeanor," 2 vols. (1808), brought to light many interesting facts
relating to the alleged conspiracy. The "Official Letter Books of W.
C. C. Claiborne, 1801-1816," 6 vols. (1917), contain material of great


The history of impressment has yet to be written, but J. R. Hutchinson's
"The Press-Gang Afloat and Ashore" (1913) has shown clearly that the
baleful effects of the British practice were not felt solely by American
shipmasters. Admiral A. T. Mahan devoted a large part of his first
volume on "Sea Power in its relations to the War of 1812," 2 vols.
(1905), to the antecedents of the war. W. E. Lingelbach has made a
notable contribution to our understanding of the Essex case in his
article on "England and Neutral Trade" printed in "The Military
Historian and Economist," vol. II (1917). Of the contemporary pamphlets,
two are particularly illuminating:

James Stephen, "War in Disguise; or, the Frauds of the Neutral Flags"
(1805), presenting the English grievances, and "An Examination of the
British Doctrine, which Subjects to Capture a Neutral Trade, not open
in Time of Peace," prepared by the Department of State under Madison's
direction in 1805. Captain Basil Hall's "Voyages and Travels" (1895)
gives a vivid picture of life aboard a British frigate in American
waters. A graphic account of the Leopard-Chesapeake affair is given by
Henry Adams in Chapter I of his fourth volume.


Besides the histories of Mahan and Adams, the reader will do well to
consult several biographies for information about peaceable coercion
in theory and practice. Among these may be mentioned Randall's "Life of
Thomas Jefferson," Adams's "Life of Albert Gallatin" and "John Randolph"
in the "American Statesmen Series," W. E. Dodd's "Life of Nathaniel
Macon" (1903), D. R. Anderson's "William Branch Giles" (1914), and J. B.
McMaster's "Life and Times of Stephen Girard," 2 vols. (1917). For
want of an adequate biography of Monroe, recourse must be taken to
the "Writings of James Monroe," 7 vols. (1898-1903), edited by S. M.
Hamilton. J. B. Moore's "Digest of International Law", 8 vols. (1906),
contains a mass of material bearing on the rights of neutrals and
the problems of neutral trade. The French decrees and the British
orders-in-council were submitted to Congress with a message by President
Jefferson on the 23d of December, 1808, and may be found in "American
State Papers, Foreign Relations," vol. III.


The relations of the United States and Spanish Florida are set forth in
many works, of which three only need be mentioned: H. B. Fuller, "The
Purchase of Florida" (1906), has devoted several chapters to the early
history of the Floridas, but so far as West Florida is concerned
his work is superseded by I. J. Cox's "The West Florida Controversy,
1789-1813" (1918). The first volume, "Diplomacy," of F. E. Chadwick's
"Relations of the United States and Spain," 3 vols. (1909-11), gives an
account of the several Florida controversies. Several books contribute
to an understanding of the temper of the young insurgents in the
Republican Party: Carl Schurz's "Henry Clay," 2 vols. (1887), W. M.
Meigs's "Life of John Caldwell Calhoun," 2 vols. (1917), M. P. Follett's
"The Speaker of the House of Representatives" (1896), and Henry Adams's
"John Randolph" (1882).


The civil history of President Madison's second term of office may be
followed in Adams's "History of the United States," vols. VII, VIII,
and IX; in Hunt's "Life of James Madison;" in Adams's "Life of Albert
Gallatin;" and in such fragmentary records of men and events as are
found in the "Memoirs and Letters of Dolly Madison" (1886) and Mrs. M.
B. Smith's "The First Forty Years of Washington Society" (1906). The
history of New England Federalism may be traced in H. C. Lodge's "Life
and Letters of George Cabot" (1878); in Edmund Quincy's "Life of Josiah
Quincy of Massachusetts" (1867); in the "Life of Timothy Pickering," 4
vols. (1867-73); and in S. E. Morison's "Life and Letters of Harrison
Gray Otis," 2 vols. (1913). Theodore Dwight published his "History
of the Hartford Convention" in 1833. Henry Adams has collected the
"Documents relating to New England Federalism," 1800-1815 (1878). The
Federalist opposition to the war is reflected in such books as Mathew
Carey's "The Olive Branch; or, Faults on Both Sides" (1814) and William
Sullivan's "Familiar Letters on Public Characters" (1834).


The history of the negotiations at Ghent has been recounted by Mahan and
Henry Adams, and more recently by F. A. Updyke, "The Diplomacy of the
War of 1812" (1915). Aside from the "State Papers," the chief sources
of information are Adams's "Life of Gallatin" and "Writings of Gallatin"
the "Memoirs of John Quincy Adams," 12 vols. (1874-1877), and "Writings
of John Quincy Adams" 7 vols. (1913-), edited by W. C. Ford, the "Papers
of James A. Bayard, 1796-1815" (1915), edited by Elizabeth Donnan, the
"Correspondence, Despatches, and Other Papers, of Viscount Castlereagh,"
12 vols. (1851-53), and the "Supplementary Despatches of the Duke of
Wellington," 15 vols. (1858-78). The Proceedings of the Massachusetts
Historical Society, vol. XLVIII (1915), contain the instructions of
the British commissioners. "A Great Peace Maker, the Diary of James
Gallatin, Secretary to Albert Gallatin" (1914) records many interesting
boyish impressions of the commissioners and their labors at Ghent.


The want of a good biography of James Monroe is felt increasingly as one
enters upon the history of his administrations. Some personal items may
be gleaned from "A Narrative of a Tour of Observation Made during the
Summer of 1817" (1818); and many more may be found in the "Memoirs and
Writings" of John Quincy Adams. The works by Fuller and Chadwick already
cited deal with the negotiations leading to the acquisition of Florida.
The "Memoirs et Souvenirs" of Hyde de Neuville, 3 vols. (1893-4),
supplement the record which Adams left in his diary. J. S. Bassett's
"Life of Andrew Jackson," 2 vols. (1911), is far less entertaining than
James Parton's "Life of Andrew Jackson," 3 vols. (1860), but much more


The problem of the recognition of the South American republics has been
put in its historical setting by F. L. Paxson in "The Independence of
the South American Republics" (1903). The relations of the United States
and Spain are described by F. E. Chadwick in the work already cited
and by J. H. Latane in "The United States and Latin America" (1920).
To these titles may be added J. M. Callahan's "Cuba and International
Relations" (1899). The studies of Worthington C. Ford have given John
Quincy Adams a much larger share in formulating the Monroe Doctrine than
earlier historians have accorded him. The origin of President Monroe's
message is traced by Mr. Ford in "Some Original Documents on the Genesis
of the Monroe Doctrine," in the "Proceedings" of the Massachusetts
Historical Society, 1902, and the subject is treated at greater length
by him in "The American Historical Review," vols. VII and VIII. The
later evolution and application of the Monroe Doctrine may be followed
in Herbert Kraus's "Die Monroedoktrin in ihren Beziehungen zur
Amerikanischen Diplomatie and zum Volkerrecht" (1913), a work which
should be made more accessible to American readers by translation.


The subjects touched upon in this closing chapter are treated with great
skill by Frederick J. Turner in his "Rise of the New West" (1906). On
the slavery controversy, an article by J. A. Woodburn, "The Historical
Significance of the Missouri Compromise," in the "Report" of the
American Historical Association for 1893, and an article by F. H.
Hodder, "Side Lights on the Missouri Compromise," in the "Report" for
1909, may be read with profit. D. R. Dewey's "Financial History of the
United States" (1903) and F. W. Taussig's "Tariff History of the United
States" (revised edition, 1914) are standard manuals. Edward Stanwood's
"History of the Presidency," 2 vols. (1916), contains the statistics
of presidential elections. T. H. Benton's "Thirty Years' View; or,
A History of the Working of American Government, 1820-1850," 2 vols.
(1854-56), becomes an important source of information on congressional
matters. The latter years of Jefferson's life are described by Randall
and the closing years of John Adams's career by Charles Francis Adams.

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