History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson/First/II:9
Chapter 9: The Yazoo Claims
President Jefferson was told from day to day of the communications that passed between Burr and the Connecticut Federalists. Of all members of the Government, the most active politician was Gideon Granger, the Postmaster-General, whose "intimacy with some of those in the secret," as Jefferson afterward testified, gave him "opportunities of searching into their proceedings." Every day during this period Granger made a confidential report to the President; and at the President's request Granger warned De Witt Clinton of Burr's intrigues with the Federalists. What passed in Rufus King's library and in Burr's private room seemed known at once by Granger, and was reported within a few days to Jefferson, who received the news with his innate optimism, warranted by experience.
- "It will be found in this, as in all other similar cases, that crooked schemes will end by overwhelming their authors and coadjutors in disgrace, and that he alone who walks strict and upright, and who in matters of opinion will be contented that others should be as free as himself, and acquiesce when his opinion is fairly overruled, will attain his object in the end."
If Jefferson and his Virginia friends in 1798, when their own opinions were overruled, had expressed the idea of acquiescence as strongly, the nation might perhaps have been saved the necessity of proving later the truth of his words; but Jefferson could afford to treat with contempt the coalition between Burr and Pickering, because, as he wisely said, it had no cohesive force to hold it together, no common principle on which to rest. When Burr's defeat in April and Hamilton's death in July dissolved the unnatural connection, Jefferson let the secret die; he wanted no scandal. He stood a little in awe of the extreme Federalists, whom he called incurables, and was unwilling to exasperate them without an object.
The Administration had every reason to rejoice that Burr's factious influence in the State of New York was at an end; for other causes of anxiety gave the President more personal annoyance. The strength of the Republican party lay in the alliance between Virginia and Pennsylvania. So long as these two central States, with their forty members of Congress, remained harmonious, nothing could shake Jefferson's power; but any discord which threatened his control of Pennsylvania caused him anxiety. Hardly had Burr's schism been checked in New York by a succession of measures as energetic as De Witt Clinton could persuade Jefferson to adopt, when a schism, that threatened greater mischief, broke out in Pennsylvania.
In this State no social hierarchy existed such as governed New England, nor were rich families with political followings to be found there, as in New York; but instead, Duane's "Aurora" shone without break or bar over one broad democratic level. Duane was represented in Congress by Michael Leib; while over the State Legislature his influence was complete. In Jefferson's Cabinet Pennsylvania was represented by Gallatin, who had little sympathy with the "Aurora," and began his administration of the finances by resisting Duane's demand for Federal patronage.
- "The thirst for offices," to use Gallatin's own words, "too much encouraged by Governor McKean's first measures, created a schism in Philadelphia as early as 1802. Leib, ambitious, avaricious, envious, and disappointed, blew up the flame, and watched the first opportunity to make his cause a general one. The vanity, the nepotism, and the indiscretion of Governor McKean afforded the opportunity. Want of mutual forbearance among the best-intentioned and most respectable Republicans has completed the schism. Duane, intoxicated by the persuasion that he alone had overthrown Federalism, thought himself neither sufficiently rewarded nor respected; and possessed of an engine which gives him an irresistible control over public opinion, he easily gained the victory for his friends."
In the spring of 1803 the "Aurora" began to attack Gallatin and Madison, under cover of devotion to the President; and from the beginning Duane went on to quarrel with Governor McKean and Alexander J. Dallas, the district attorney.
The impeachment of Judge Pickering in Congress followed and in some degree imitated an impeachment by the Pennsylvania Legislature of Judge Addison, one of the five president judges of the Common Pleas. With the help of Dallas and Governor McKean, the Legislature in January, 1803, removed Judge Addison; then, inspired by Randolph's attack on Justice Chase, they turned against their Supreme Court,—at one sweep impeaching three of the judges, and addressing the Governor for the removal of H. H. Brackenridge, the fourth, because he insisted on making common cause with his associates. The alleged ground of impeachment was the arbitary committal of a suitor for contempt of court; the real motive seemed rather to be a wish for legal reforms such as society was too unskilful to make for itself, and lawyers were slow to begin. Throughout America the bar was a sort of aristocracy, conservative to a degree that annoyed reformers of every class. Jefferson and his party raised one Republican lawyer after another to the bench, only to find that when their professions of political opinion were tested in legal form, the Republican judge rivalled Marshall in the Federalist and English tendencies of his law. The bar chose to consider the prejudice of society against their caste unreasonable; but the bar was itself somewhat unreasonable to require that an untrained and ill-led body of country farmers and local politicians should say precisely what legal reform they wanted, or know exactly what was practicable.
No sooner did the Pennsylvania Legislature begin to pull in pieces the judicial system of the State, and persecute the legal profession, than Dallas, McKean, and all the educated leaders of the Republican party broke from the mass of their followers, and attempted to check their violence. Governor McKean stopped with his veto certain measures which the Legislature had approved, and he declined to remove Judge Brackenridge when the Legislature asked him to do so. Dallas become counsel for the impeached judges. Duane and Leib raged against McKean and Dallas; a large majority of Pennsylvania Republicans followed the "Aurora;" Gallatin lost control over his State, and saw himself threatened, like his friend Dallas, with ostracism; while the outside world, roused by the noise of this faction-fight, asked what it meant, and could not understand the answer. The Federalists alone professed to explain the mystery which perplexed people less wise than themselves; they had said from the beginning that the democrats had neither virtue nor understanding to carry on the government, and must bring about a crisis at last.After the excitement of Burr's intrigues and Hamilton's death subsided, leaving the politics of New York in comparative repose, the autumn elections in Pennsylvania began to disturb Jefferson's temper.
- "Thank Heaven!" wrote Dallas to Gallatin, in October, "our election is over! The violence of Duane has produced a fatal division. He seems determined to destroy the Republican standing and usefulness of every man who does not bend to his will. He has attacked me as the author of an address which I never saw till it was in the press. He menaces the Governor; you have already felt his lash; and I think there is reason for Mr. Jefferson himself to apprehend that the spirit of Callender survives."
A struggle took place over the re-election of Leib to Congress, which the "Aurora" carried by a few hundred votes. Republicans of Dallas's kind, who would not support Lieb, were nicknamed "Quids" by Duane, after the tertium quid, which was worth not even a name. At least three fourths of the Republican party followed the "Aurora," and left the "Quids" in the solitude of deserted leaders.
Jefferson's social relations were wholly with Gallatin, McKean, and Dallas, but his political strength depended on the popular vote, which followed Duane and Leib. At one moment he wanted to reason with Duane, but by Gallatin's advice gave up this idea. At length he temporized, became neutral, and left Gallatin and Dallas to their own resources.
- "I see with infinite pain," he wrote to Dr. Logan, "the bloody schism which has taken place among our friends in Pennsylvania and New York, and will probably take place in other States. The main body of both sections mean well, but their good intentions will produce great public evil. The minority, whichever section shall be the minority, will end in coalition with the Federalists and some compromise of principle. Republicanism will thus lose, and royalism gain, some portion of that ground which we thought we had rescued to good government."
The idea that "royalism" could in any case gain support among the factions of Pennsylvania democrats was one which could have occurred only to Jefferson, who saw monarchy, as the New Englanders saw Antichrist, in every man who opposed him in politics. Apart from this trick of words, Jefferson's theory of his own duties failed to satisfy his followers. Dallas was disgusted at the situation in which he found himself left.
- "It is obvious to me," he wrote to Gallatin soon after the schism broke out, "that unless our Administration take decisive measures to discountenance the factious spirit that has appeared; unless some principle of political cohesion can be introduced into our public councils as well as at our elections; and unless men of character and talents can be drawn from professional and private pursuits into the legislative bodies of our governments, Federal and State,—the empire of Republicanism will moulder into anarchy, and the labor and hope of our lives will terminate in disappointment and wretchedness. . . . At present we are the slaves of men whose passions are the object of all their actions,—I mean your Duanes, Cheethams, Leibs, etc. They have the press in their power; and though we may have virtue to assert the liberty of the press, it is too plain that we have not spirit enough to resist the tyranny of the printers."
This last sharp sentence aimed at the President, who displeased Dallas by showing too evident a wish not to offend Duane. "The duty of an upright Administration," Jefferson told Dr. Logan, "is to pursue its course steadily, to know nothing of these family dissensions, and to cherish the good principles of both parties." Had the President followed this duty in the case of Burr, the triumph of De Witt Clinton and Cheetham would have been more difficult than it was; but the President feared Burr the less because Burr's newspaper, the "Morning Chronicle," was respectable, while the "Aurora" was unscrupulous, and to cherish Duane's principles, whether good or bad, was the only way of escaping the lash of his tongue. Jefferson chose the path of caution in refusing to sustain Dallas and the "Quids" against the party and the Legislature; but during the rest of his term he was forced to endure Duane's attachment, and to feel that Madison and Gallatin were sacrificed to his own safety. Duane never hesitated to assert that he was in Jefferson's confidence and was acting in his interests, and commonly he or some of his friends could show a recent letter in the President's handwriting which gave color to their assertion.
The Pennsylvania schism was not serious. Governor McKean and Dallas were alarmed when they saw the democratic system blundering in its rude way, without taking sound advice or heeding trained lawyers; but only the Federalists believed in a crisis. Society went undisturbed to its daily duties in spite of Duane's outcries and Dallas's grumbling. The only result of the Pennsylvania schism was to check the aggressive energy of the democratic movement by alarming a few of the older leaders and causing them to halt. From the day of Jefferson's inauguration this tendency toward reaction had begun, and it developed in party schisms which could not fail to hurry the process. The symptom, however unpleasant to old political leaders such as Jefferson, McKean, and Dallas, who liked the quiet enjoyment of power, was healthy for society at large; but no one could fail to be struck by the contrast which in this respect was offered by the two great sections of the country. While the mobile, many-sided, restless democracy of New England, New York, and Pennsylvania exhibited its faults, and succeeded, with much personal abuse, in thrusting out the elements foreign to its character which retarded its movement, the society of the Southern States was classically calm. Not a breath disturbed the quiet which brooded over the tobacco and cotton fields between the Potomac and Florida. A Presidential election was taking place, but the South saw only one candidate. The State legislatures quietly chose electors to vote for Jefferson and Clinton. From the St. Mary's to the Potomac and the Ohio, every electoral voice was given to Jefferson. With some surprise the public learned that Maryland gave two of eleven votes to C. C. Pinckney, who received also the three votes of Delaware. This little State even went back on its path, repudiated Cæsar A. Rodney, and returned to its favorite Bayard, who was sent by a handsome majority to his old seat in the House of Representatives. Broken for an instant only by this slight check, the tide of democratic triumph swept over the States of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and burst upon Connecticut as though Jefferson's hope of dragging even that State from its moorings were at length to be realized. With difficulty the Connecticut hierarchy held its own; and with despair after the torrent passed by, it looked about and found itself alone. Even Massachusetts cast 29,310 votes for Jefferson, against 25,777 for Pinckney.
Rarely was a Presidential election better calculated to turn the head of a President, and never was a President elected who felt more keenly the pleasure of his personal triumph. At the close of four years of administration, all Jefferson's hopes were fulfilled. He had annihilated opposition. The slanders of the Federalist press helped to show that he was the idol of four fifths of the nation. He received one hundred and sixty-two of one hundred and seventy-six electoral votes, while in 1801 he had but seventy-three in one hundred and thirty-eight; and in the Ninth Congress, which was to meet in December, 1805, barely seven out of thirty-four senators, and twenty-five out of one hundred and forty-one representatives, would oppose his will. He described his triumph, in language studiously modest, in a letter to Volney:—
- "The two parties which prevailed with so much violence when you were here are almost wholly melted into one. At the late Presidential election I have received one hundred and sixty-two votes against fourteen only. Connecticut is still Federalist by a small majority, and Delaware on a poise, as she has been since 1775, and will be till Anglomany with her yields to Americanism. Connecticut will be with us in a short time. Though the people in mass have joined us, their leaders had committed themselves too far to retract. Pride keeps them hostile; they brood over their angry passions, and give them vent in the newspapers which they maintain. They still make as much noise as if they were the whole nation."
Such success might have turned the head of any philosopher that ever sat on a throne. Easily elated, unwilling to forebode trouble, devoid of humor, and unable to see himself in any but the heroic light, President Jefferson basked in the sunshine of popularity and power as though it were no passing warmth such as had led scores of kings into disaster, but shone by virtue of some democratic law which rested on truth that could never change. The White House was filled with an atmosphere of adulation. Flattery, gross as any that man could ask, was poured into the President's ear, but was as nothing compared with the more subtle flattery of the popular vote. No friend stopped him to ask how such a miraculous success had been brought about. Four years had not passed since Jefferson and his party had clamored against attempts to give energy to government; and no one could ever forget that they claimed and received power from the people in order to defend States-rights, restrict Executive influence, and correct strained constructions of the Constitution. Who upheld States-rights in 1804, and complained of Executive influence and strained constructions? Certainly not Jefferson or his friends, but the monarchical Federalists, who were fit inmates for an asylum. Whenever Jefferson had occasion to discuss the aims and opinions of the two parites, he did not allude to the principles set forth in 1798; not a word was said of "strict construction." The only theories opposed to his own which he could see in the political horizon were those of a few hundred conservatives of the colonial epoch.
- "What, in fact," he wrote, "is the difference of principle between the two parties here? The one desires to preserve an entire independence of the executive and legislative branches on each other and the dependence of both on the same source,—the free election of the people. The other party wishes to lessen the dependence of the Executive and of one branch of the Legislature on the people, some by making them hold for life, some hereditary, and some even for giving the Executive an influence by patronage or corruption over the remaining popular branch, so as to reduce the elective franchise to its minimum."
After nearly four years of Executive authority more complete than had ever before been known in American history, Jefferson could see in himself and in his principles only a negation of Executive influence. What had become of the old radical division of parties,—the live between men who wished the national government to exercise inherent powers of sovereignty and those who held to a strict observance of powers expressly delegated by the people of the States?
Jefferson said with truth that the two old parties were almost wholly melted into one; but in this fusion his own party had shown even more willingness than its opponents to mix its principles in a useful, but not noble, amalgam. His own protests in regard to the Louisiana purchase and the branch bank at New Orleans were recorded. With such evidence on their side, the moderate Federalists who in the election of 1804 gave to Jefferson the nineteen electoral votes of Massachusetts and the seven of New Hampshire, could claim that they had altered no opinion they ever held; that the government had suffered no change in principle from what it had been under President Washington; that not a Federalist measure, not even the Alien and Sedition laws, had been expressly repudiated; that the national debt was larger than it had ever been before, the navy maintained and energetically employed, the national bank preserved and its operations extended; that the pwers of the national government had been increased to a point that made blank paper of the Constitution as heretofore interpreted by Jefferson, while the national territory, vastly more than doubled in extent, was despotically enlarged and still more despotically ruled by the President and Congress, in the teeth of every political profession the Republican party had ever made. Had this been the work of Federalists, it would have been claimed as a splendid triumph of Federalist principles; and the good sense of New Engalnd was never better shown than when Massachusetts and New Hampshire flung aside their prejudices and told Jefferson that they accepted his inaugural pledge to be a Federalist as they were Republicans.
Every Federalist who came over and every State that joined the majority weakened the relative influence of Virginia, and helped to dilute the principles of the pure Virginia school. The new democrats in New England, New York, and Ohio were Federalists in disguise, and cared nothing for fine-spun constitutional theories of what government might or might not do, provided government did what they wanted. They feared no corruption in which they were to have a part. They were in secret jealous of Virginia, and as devoted as George Cabot and Stephen Higginson to the interests of commerce and manufactures. A majority of the Northern democrats were men of this kind. Their dislike of Federalists was a social rather than political feeling, for Federalist manners seemed to them a wilful impertinence; but the Varnums and Crowninshields of Massachusetts cared as little as De Witt Clinton or Aaron Burr for the notions of Speaker Macon and John Randolph. As orators and leaders the Northern democrats made a poor figure beside the Virginians; but their votes weighed more and more heavily with every succeeding Congress, and both Randolph and Macon were becoming suspicious that these votes were too apt to be cast against the wishes of Virginia.The second session of the Eighth Congress met on the first Monday in November, as provided by a law passed in view of Judge Chase's impeachment. The President's Message, sent to Congress Nov. 8, 1804, was as usual toned to cheerful harmony. The income had reached eleven millions and a half of dollars; more than three million six hundred thousand dollars of the public debt had been discharged within the year, more than twelve millions since 1801; and the revenue was still increasing. Difficulties had risen with foreign nations, but no disturbance of the peace was to be expected. The Indians were quiet. Gunboats were in the course of construction. No increase of the army was called for. Congress had only to inquire whether anything remained to be done for the public good.
The Federalists were reduced to showing that Jefferson's political success had not chastened his style; for the Message contained a number of sentences that exaggerated his peculiar faults of expression:—
- "The war which was lighted up in Europe a little before our last meeting has not yet extended its flames to other nations, nor been marked by the calamities which sometimes stain the footsteps of war."
The Federalists reasonably objected to the figure of a war which not only extended flames but also made footsteps and marked them by calamities which stained. Jefferson went on to say that he had bought from the Delaware Indians the country between the Wabash and the Ohio:—
- "This acquisition is important not only for its extent and fertility, but as fronting three hundred miles on the Ohio, and near half that on the Wabash. The produce of the settled country descending those rivers will no longer pass in view of the Indian frontier but in a small portion, and with the cession heretofore made by the Kaskaskias nearly consolidates our possessions north of the Ohio in a very respectable breadth from Lake Erie to the Mississippi."
Produce passing in view of a frontier in a portion and consolidating possessions in a breadth did not suit fastidious Federalists; nor were they satisfied with the President's closing exhortation, requesting the Legislature to inquire "whether laws are provided in all cases where they are wanting." They enjoyed their jests at Jefferson's literary style; but with the public the matter of the Message was more weighty than its manner. No kind of criticism had less political value than that wasted on the style of a public document.
Yet one thing was certainly wanting in this Message. No hint was given that Congress stood in danger of overstepping the limits of its powers, or would do well to return within them. This silence was not accidental; it marked the moment of separation between Jefferson and the old Republicans of 1798. Speaker Macon, John Randolph, and Joseph Nicholson soon showed that they meant to take no such view of their duties.
Hardly had legislation begun, when Randolph, November 26, made a report against the remission of duties on books imported for the use of schools and colleges. The Constitution, he said, was a grant of limited powers for general objects; its leading feature was an abhorrence of exclusive privileges; impost must be uniform; if Congress could exempt one class of the people from taxes, they might exempt other classes; and although the practice had been different, and philosophical apparatus for the use of schools was actually exempt by law, he believed that law to be unconstitutional. The doctrine, which if carried to its ultimate conclusions would have left hardly a tax on the statute-book, was accepted by the same House which had supported Randolph in defending the Louisiana purchase by arguments that, in President Jefferson's opinion, left no Constitution at all. Two days afterward Randolph repeated the lesson, and his friends Macon and Nicholson came to his support. A Bill was before the House authorizing the corporation of Georgetown to construct a dam or causeway from Mason's Island to the shore of the Potomac, in order to scour the channel and improve navigation. Randolph affirmed that the Potomac was the joint property of Maryland and Virginia, over which Congress had no right to legislate; that the Bill authorized the corporation of Georgetown to lay a tax which would be unequal and oppressive, because all Georgetown property would not be equally benefited by deepening the harbor; and finally, "he hoped a prompt rejection of the Bill would serve as a general notice to the inhabitants of the District to desist from their daily and frivolous applications to Congress." Macon, Nicholson, and a number of the Virginians spoke earnestly in the same sense. "So long as I have the honor of a seat in the House," said Nicholson, "I will hold up my hands against any measure like the present, which would go to affect the rights of any of the States. If Congress have a right to interfere in the least with the free navigation of the Potomac, they have a right to stop it altogether." In reply to those exhortations the House passed the Bill by a vote of sixty-six to thirty-eight; and more than enough Republicans voted for it to have passed it without Federalist help.
The reason for this sudden decline of Randolph's influence was not far to seek. He was undertaking to act without concert with the President. While he and his friends argued on the States-right theory at one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Jefferson at the other end said openly, to Federalists and Republicans alike, that such arguments were mere metaphysical subtleties wich ought to have no weight. The next subject in debate left no longer a doubt of the cleft opening between the old Republicans of 1798 and the Republicans of the future, with Jefferson and Madison at their head. That Randolph had determined to fight for control of the party and for the principles upon which it had come into office was clear; but the reason for the suddenness and violence of his emotion was found in the once famous story of the Yazoo Claims, which from his youth acted on his passionate temper with the force of a point of honor.
As already told, Congress seemed about to settle these claims as early as April, 1802, when the six commissioners made their Report. John Randolph and his friends were then supreme. Dec. 30, 1803, a few days before the Federalists were startled by Randolph's demand for the impeachment of Judge Chase, the Northern democrats and the friends of Madison were surprised by a Resolution offered by Randolph excluding claimants under the Georgia grants of 1795 from any share in the proposed settlement. A few weeks later, Feb 20, 1804, Randolph withdrew this Resolution, in order to introduce a series of declaratory Resolves, which, after reciting the story of the Georgia grants, affirmed the right of Georgia to rescind them, and forbade the appropriation of money to the settlement of claims derived from them. March 7, 1804, he made a long and earnest speech on the subject; and after a sharp struggle in a House nearly equally divided, he succeeded in defeating action on the Bill. On the final vote of postponement, March 12, 1804, he carried fifteen members of the Virginia delegation with him. Of the three Republicans from Virginia who rejected his lead, one was John G. Jackson, brother-in-law of the Secretary of State.
From that moment Randolph's energies quickened in sympathy with old Republican principles; and when he returned to Congress in November, 1804, he and his friends began at once to take extreme ground as champions of States-rights. He lost no chance of enforcing his theories, whether in regard to exemptions from taxes, or in denying to government power to improve navigations within the District of Columbia, or in reproving the people of Georgetown for proposing to lay a general tax on their property for the betterment of their river front. He found the Administration opposed to him. "Mere metaphysical subtleties," said Jefferson. The influence of Madison was strong in favor of the Yazoo Compromise, and the Northern democrats supported the Secretary. A struggle for supremacy was imminent, and its consequences were soon felt. The impeachment of Judge Chase was Randolph's measure, and received no support from Madison. The Yazoo Compromise was Madison's measure, and its defeat was Randolph's passionate wish.
The three branches of government were likely to be at variance on a point of deep concern. No one who knew Chief-Justice Marshall could doubt that he, and the Supreme Bench with him, would hold that the State of Georgia was bound by its contract with the Land Companies. The Administration had taken the ground that the State was not bound in law, but that the United States should nevertheless make an equitable compromise with the claimants. Randolph was bent on forcing Congress to assert that a State had the right to repudiate its own acts where it was evident that these acts were against common morality or public interest; and that its decision in such a case should be final. The conflict was embittered by the peculiarities of Randolph's character. In his eyes, when such questions of honor were involved, every man who opposed him seemed base. Unfortunately the New England Mississippi Company secured the services of Gideon Granger, the Postmaster-General, as their agent; and Randolph's anger became intense when, at the close of the year 1804, he saw the Postmaster-General on the floor of the House openly lobbying for the passage of the Bill.
At length, at the end of January, 1805, the House went into committee on the Georgia claims, and Randolph for the first time displayed the full violence of his temper. Hitherto as a leader he had been at times arrogant; but from this moment he began the long series of personal assaults which made him famous, as though he were the bully of a race course, dispensed from regarding ordinary rules of the ring, and ready at any sudden impulse to spring at his enemies, gouging, biting, tearing, and rending his victims with the ferocity of a rough-and-tumble fight. The spectacle was revolting, but terrific; and until these tactics lost their force by repetition, few men had the nerve and quickness to resist them with success.
"Past experience has shown," he cried, "that this is one of those subjects which pollution has sanctified." He treated the majority of the House as corruptionists, "As if animated by one spirit, they perform all their evolutions with the most exact discipline, and march in a firm phalanx directly up to their object. Is it that men combined to effect some evil purpose, acting on previous pledge to each other, are ever more in unison than those who, seeking only to discover truth, obey the impulse of that conscience which God has placed in their bosoms?" He fell upon Granger: "Millions of acres are easily digested by such stomachs. Goaded by avarice, they buy only to sell, and sell only to buy. The retail trade of fraud and imposture yields too small and slow a profit to gratify their cupidity. They buy and sell corruption in the gross." He hinted that the Administration was to blame: "Is it come to this? Are heads of executive departments to be brought into this House, with all the influence and patronage attached to them, to extort from us now what was refused at the last session of Congress?" He closed by asserting that this was the spirit of Federalism, and that Republicans who yielded to it were false to their party: "Of what consequence is it that a man smiles in your face, holds out his hand, and declares himself the advocate of those political principles to which you are also attached, when you see him acting with your adversaries upon other principles which the voice of the nation has put down, and which I did hope were buried, never to rise again in this section of the globe?" He maintained that the Federalist administrations had done no act so corrupt: "If Congress shall determine to saction this fraud upon the public, I trust in God we shall hear no more of the crimes and follies of the former Administration. For one, I promise that my lips upon this subject shall be closed in eternal silence. I should disdain to prate about the petty larcenies of our predecessors after having given my sanction to this atrocious public robbery."
The tirade could have no other result than a personal quarrel and a party schism. Madison and the Administration had done nothing to deserve the attack, and of course could not trust Randolph again. The question whether the claimants had rights which the government would do well to compromise was for the law to decide, and was ultimately settled by Chief-Justice Marshall in their favor. The question of morality, in regard to sanctioning fraud, thougha much wider issue, was not to be settled ex parte, but must abide by the answer to the question of law. Only the States-rights difficulty remained; and even on that delicate ground, although the right of Georgia to repudiate her own pledges under the plea of her own corruption were conceded, the States-rights theory could not insist that this act must bind other States, or affect any sovereignty except that which was involved. After the property in question had been sold to the United States government, Georgia need not prevent the purchaser from doing what it would with its own. Randolph could not make States-rights serve his whole pupose in the argument, and was obliged to rely on the charge of sanctioning corruption and fraud,—a charge irrelevant to the claim of innocent third parties like the New Englanders, unless he could prove their complicity, which was not in his power.
Randolph's harangue struck at the credit of Madison; and the conduct of the Postmaster-General in acting as claim-agent cast a shadow of corruption over the whole government. Madison's friends were obliged to take up the challenge; and his brother-in-law, John G. Jackson of Virginia, replied to Randolph in a speech which was thought to bear evident marks of Madison's hand. Some of Jackson's retorts carried a sting. Randolph had dwelt much on the silence and discipline of the majority. "When unprincipled men," said he, "acquire the ascendency, they act in concert and are silent." "Silence and concert, then," retorted Jackson, "are to him proofs of corrupt motive. Is this always a correct position? Does the gentleman recollect that measures were adopted a few years past without discussion, by my political friends in conjunction with him, who were silent and united?" Throughout Jackson's speech ran a tone of irritating disregard for his colleague, "whose influence in this House is equal to the rapacity of the speculator whose gigantic grasp has been described by him as extending from the shores of Lake Erie to the mouth of the Mobile." Whether Madison meant it or not, an impression prevailed in the House that in Jackson's speech the Secretary of State took up Randolph's challenge with a defiance equally strong.
Randolph returned to his charges, attacking Granger bitterly, but not yet venturing to take the single step that remained to create a Virginia feud; he left Jackson and Madison alone. He bore with something like patience the retorts which his violence drew upon him, and his self-esteem made him proof to the insults of democrats like Matthew Lyon, who thanked his Creator "that he gave me the face of a man, not that of an ape or a monkey, and that he gave me the heart of a man also." After a long and ill-tempered debate, Feb. 2, 1805, Randolph closed by an allusion to Madison and Gallatin which implied hesitation. "When I first read their Report, I was filled with unutterable astonishment, finding men in whom I had and still have the highest confidence recommend a measure which all the facts and all the reasons they had collected opposed and unequivocally condemned." Prudence restrained him from making a final breach with Madison; and perhaps he was the more cautious because he felt the danger of pressing too far his influence over Virginia sentiment which to this point supported his opposition. When the House divided, a majority of sixty-three to fifty-eight sustained the compromise, and ordered the committee of claims to report a Bill; but in the minority Randolph found by his side every Republican member of the Virginia delegation except two, one of whom was Jackson. Even the two sons-in-law of President Jefferson voted against the Yazoo claims. So strong was the current of opinion in Virginia, that Senator Giles went about Washington asserting that Jefferson himself would lose an election there if he were known to favor the compromise, and that Jackson would certainly be defeated. For the moment Randolph might fairly suppose that in a contest for supremacy with the Secretary of State, his own hold on Virginia was stronger than Madison's. In spite of the majority against him, he succeeded in postponing action on the Bill.
Perhaps his temper was further restrained by another motive. The trial of Judge Chase was near at hand. Within a few days after the close of the Yazoo debate, Randolph was to open the case for the managers before the Senate; and he had reason to fear that the Northern democrats were beginning to doubt the wisdom of this Virginia scheme.
- Jefferson to Granger, March 9, 1814; Works, vi. 329.
- Jefferson to Granger, April 16, 1804; Works, iv. 542.
- Gallatin to Badollet, Oct. 25, 1805; Adams's Gallatin, p. 331.
- Dallas to Gallatin, Oct. 16, 1804; Adams's Gallatin, p. 326.
- Jefferson to Dr. Logan, May 11, 1805; Works, iv. 575.
- A. J. Dallas to Gallatin, Jan. 16, 1805; Adams's Gallatin, p. 327.
- Jefferson to Dr. Logan, May 11, 1805; Works, iv. 575.
- Dallas to Gallatin, April 4, 1805; April 21, 1811; Adams's Gallatin, pp. 333, 439.
- Jefferson to Volney, Feb. 8, 1805; Works, iv. 573.
- Jefferson to J. F. Mercer, Oct. 9, 1804; Works, iv. 563.
- Diary of J. Q. Adams (Jan. 11, 1805), i. 331.
- See vol. i. p. 305.
- Diary of J. Q. Adams (Feb. 1, 1805), i. 343.