Journal of William Maclay/Third Session of the First Congress/Relations with France, and the Excise
January, 24th, Monday. — This day voluminous communications were introduced by Secretary Lear. A volume of a letter from a Dr. O'Fallon to the President, avowing the raising of a vast body of men in the Kentucky country to force a settlement with the Yazoo country; the state of Indian affairs both in the southern and government northwest of the Ohio; the translation of all which was a want of more troops.
But the most singular of all was a proclamation for running lines of experiment for the ten-mile square. The message accompanying the proclamation calls for an amendatory law, permitting the President to locate lower down and to lay half of the square in Virginia. This seems like unsettling the whole affair. I really am surprised at the conduct of the President. To bring it back at any rate before Congress is certainly the most imprudent of all acts. To take on him to fix the spot by his own authority, when he might have placed the three commissioners in the post of responsibility, was a thoughtless act. I really think it not improbable that Opposition may find a nest to lay her eggs in from the unexpected manner of treating this subject. The general sense of Congress certainly was that the commissioners should fix on the spot, and it may be a query whether the words of the law will warrant a different construction. The commissioners are now only agents of demarkation, mere surveyors to run four lines of fixed courses and distances.
Sold my stock, six-per-cents at seventeen shillings fourpence; deferred, and three-per-cents at nine.
January 25th, Tuesday. — Had this day another hearing at the Board of Property. I really have suffered persecution on this affair. Rowle, my adversary, did not appear, and Daniel Rees called about dinner-time to tell me that Robert Vaux Coots had been told of my cheating a man out of a tract of land after it had been surveyed to him. I really have had my share of trouble with this business of Senator, and it would be well for me if I were fairly and honorably out of it.
Mr. Brown, of Northampton, called on me and told me that Muhlenberg was very busy in giving oyster-suppers, etc., and seemed to think that I should go more among the members, etc. I find I will offend him and some others if I do not. But it is a vile commerce, and I detest this beast-worshiping. How melancholy a thing it is that the liberties of men should be in the hands of such creatures! I can not call them men. But Brown seemed to think that Muhlenberg had made an impression on the Governor, or some of them. so. Such arts have prevailed and will prevail, but the day of my deliverance draweth nigh. The 4th of March is not distant from the different schemes and parties that are formed and the want of any fixed form or mode of election. I can not think the choice will be made before that time; and let them affront me if they find me here afterward.
January 26th, Wednesday. — I never in my life had more distressing dreams than last night. But I received imaginary relief from my visionary perplexities, and the emotion was so great as to awaken me. The agitation I underwent was so extreme that my head ached for some time after I awoke. This I may charge to the vexation of yesterday.
I went and called on a number of the members of the Assembly and [State] Senators. All seemed fair and smooth. Some of them, indeed, expressly said that they would support me at the coming election, believing that to be the object of my visit, as in some measure it was. Sed nulla fides fronti may be applied to many of them.
The bill for regulating consuls and vice-consuls had the second reading this day. A letter from the national Assembly of France, on the death of Dr. Franklin, was communicated from them and received with coldness that was truly amazing. I can not help painting to myself the disappointment that awaits the French patriots, while their warm fancies are figuring the raptures that we will be thrown into on the receipt of their letter, and the information of the honors which they have bestowed on our countrymen, and anticipating the complimentary echoes of our answers, when we, cold as clay, care not a fig for them, Franklin, or freedom. Well we deserve — what do we deserve? To be d — d!
1. A teaspoonful of the flour of brimstone taken every morning before breakfast. General St. Clair and Mr. Milligan both relieved by it. NOTE. — They are both Scotchmen.
2. Asafœtida laid on burning coals and held to the nose. Mr. Todd greatly relieved by this.
3. Cider in which a hot iron has been quenched. This has relieved many, though eider is to many people very hurtful in that disorder.
January 27th. — This day communications were received from the President of the United States relating to the Indian depredations. A post on the Muskingum cut off. The wishes of many people are gratified to involve us in war. To involve us in expense, at any rate, seems to be the great object of their design. It, perhaps, would be unjust — perhaps cruel, too — to suppose it. But had a system been needed to involve us in the depth of difficulty with the Indians, none better could have been devised.
Last year, at New York, much altercation happened, whether a discrimination in the duties of tonnage should not be made in favor of foreign nations in treaty with us. This measure was lost, although, in my opinion, a just one. The court of France remonstrates against the duties, expecting favors as a nation in treaty. Some gentlemen, on receiving the communications, affected recantation publicly, and by these very means obtained themselves to be put on the committee. This day they reported against the claims of France.
I have hitherto attended only to the part acted by some persons whose conduct, from appearance, is not very consistent. I called on Otis for the papers. He said Butler got them and had given them to one of the Representatives. A minute after I saw them in the hands of Mr. Dalton. But Otis is really so stupid that I know not whether he lied or blundered.
When the matter of no discrimination was carried in Congress, in our first session, I could hardly suppress a thought, which I felt ready to spring up in my mind, that some person wished to destroy the confidence between us and France, and bring us back to the fish-pots of British dependence. This I charge to the influence of the city of New York, but Philadelphia has not altered the tenor of their political conduct.
Elsworth could not rest a moment all this day. He was out and in, in and out, all on the fidgets. Twice or thrice was an adjournment hinted at, and as often did he request that it might be withdrawn, expecting the Excise bill to be taken out. But he had to bear his impatience. Three o'clock came before the bill. I can see that he will stand foremost in the gladiatorial list.
January 28th, Friday. — Much crowded this morning with people with whom I had not much to do. Had to call at the Board of Property. 'Twas the usual time before I went to the Hall. The Excise bill came up; but oh, what a mistake! It is only a bill for discontinuing certain duties and laying others in their stead. The odious name is omitted, but the thing is the same. It was read and ordered to the press.
I went to the Senate of the State to hear the debates on the resolutions. But they were postponed. Returned to our Chamber, and the report of the committee on the difference with the court of France was taken up. Almost everybody gave it against the French demands. I differed from them on some points, but, as I could not obtain a sight of the papers, I joined in the motion for a postponement, which was carried.
January 29th, Saturday. — Called twice this day at the office of our Secretary to get the French papers. Otis says Carrol took them away, but there is no believing a word he says. Went to hear the debates in the State Senate. The resolutions for instructing the Senators had been postponed yesterday expressly for the purpose of obtaining a sight of the bill, which is in its passage through Congress. But the same men pushed for a decision this day. The State has now an opportunity of seeing the benefit of two Houses. The division was nine to eight. The yeas and nays were called. Graff, of Lancaster, was going home. This was the reason for pushing the vote this day. Assemblymen and Senators may be equally considered as representatives of the people. From the division of the two Houses the voice of the people appears to be unequivocally against an excise.
January 30th, Sunday. — Not very well this day, and stayed at home most of the day. Went in the evening to the funeral of Judge Bryan. This man rests from his labors, but the tongue of malevolence resteth not, so inhumane are many of the citizens of this place as to speak of his decease with joy. But the anodyne of death hath spread her mantle over him. He was said to be spiteful and revengeful; his enemies were not less so, and he had the qualities of industry and love of freedom. He was the father of the Abolition laws.
January 31st, Monday. — The Excise bill read a second time; but, the bill not being in our hands, it was made the order of the day for Wednesday.
The affair of the French discontents taken up. God forgive me if I wrong some people, but there certainly have been more censorious conclusions than to charge some people with a design of breaking our connection with France!
I called on Friday; I called twice on Saturday. Otis lied basely about the papers, and I have never got my eyes on them.
When or how will all these mad measures lead us? We have it ever in our ears that the present General Government (with respect to the persons who compose it) contains the collected wisdom and learning of the United States. It must be admitted that they have generally been selected on account of their reputation for knowledge, either legal, political, mercantile, historical, etc. Newspapers are printed in every corner. In every corner ambitious men abound, for ignorance or want of qualifications is no bar to this view. Thus, then, the Tylers and Jackstraws may come in play, and talents, experience, and learning be considered as disqualifications for office; and thus the Government be bandied about from one set of projectors to another, till some one man more artful than the rest, to perpetuate their power, slip the noose of despotism about our necks. 'Tis easy to say this never can happen among a virtuous people; ay, but we are not more virtuous than the nations that have gone before us.
February 1st, Tuesday. — This day I had much to say against the report of a committee which went to declare war against the Algerines. It is not suspicion that the designs of the court are to have a fleet and army. The Indian war is forced forward to justify our having a standing army, and eleven unfortunate men, now in slavery in Algiers, is the pretext for fitting out a fleet to go to war with them. While fourteen of these captives were alive, the barbarians asked about thirty-five thousand dollars for them; but it is urged that we should expend half a million dollars rather than redeem these unhappy men. I vociferated against the measure, and, I suppose, offended my colleague. This thing of a fleet has been working among our members all the session. I have heard it break out often.
February 2d, Wednesday. — The Excise bill read over and remarked on and committed to five members. I gave notice that I would endeavor to show that a much lower duty would answer the demand of the Secretary. I spoke to sundry of the members to second a general postponement for the session, but not a man approved of any such thing.
Dined this day with Mr. Burd. Lewis was there; Rowle was there; old Shippen was there. I endeavored to be easy, but could not be sprightly. From the circle of the universe could not be collected a group who have manifested equal malignity to me personally as I have received from the above characters. May they never have it in their power to do unto others as they have done unto me!
February 3d, Thursday. — This was an unimportant day in the Senate; no debate of consequence took place. I was called off the street to dine with a Quaker at about two o'clock. As he seemed very friendly, I went and ate heartily of a good dinner, and was perfectly easy; much more than I could say of the great dinners where the candles are ready to be brought in with the going out of the last dishes. This high life is really very distant from nature. All is artificial.
I neglected sundry small matters and went in the evening to the meeting of a society formed lately for promoting the improvement of roads and inland communications. Dr. Smith is at the bottom of this business. His object is to consolidate the report of the commissioners who have lately reviewed the communications on the Susquehanna, Juniata, etc., at least so far as to bring forward the Juniata only. In this business Findley is joined with him, and a dirty pair they are. I attacked the proceedings of the committee who drew up the memorial with perhaps more eagerness than prudence. I had, however, some success. My old friend showed some malignity. From the drift of chaff and feathers you know how the winds blow, says the proverb; much more so if you see ships sail or trees come down with the blast. Yesterday Ryerson, the devoted creature of Mr. Morris, put up a nomination of William Findley for Senator in my room. They will be easy when they get my place, and I trust I will be easier without it than with it.
What is the reason that I do not hear a single word from Harrisburg, not a word from Davy, not a word from Bob, not a word from the old man? I will give myself no trouble about them, or as little as I can help.
February 4th, Friday. — This day we had a large report from the Secretary of State transmitted to us from the House of Representatives respecting the fisheries of New England. The great object seems to be the making them a nursery for seamen, that we, like all the nations of the earth, may have a navy. We hear every day distant hints of such things as these; in fact, it seems we must soon forego our republican innocence, and, like all other nations, set apart a portion of our citizens for the purpose of inflicting misery on our fellow-mortals. This practice is felony to posterity. The men so devoted are not only cut off, but a proportionate share of women remain unmatched. Had the sums expended in war been laid out in meliorating the kingdom of England, or any other modern Government, what delightful abodes might they have been made; whereas war only leaves traces of desolation!
Dined this day with Charles Biddle. He has some point to carry with the State government, as I believe, and the dinner may be on account of my brother. The company were mostly members of the Legislature.
I must here note of our Vice-President that he this day hurried the adjournment for to-morrow at eleven o'clock. All this is plain. He is deep in the cabals of the Secretary [Hamilton]. The Secretary sat close with the committee on the Excise bill. Every moment it was expected they would report, but so anxious are the Secretary's party to have it passed that even John Adams, who used to show as much joy on an adjournment from Friday to Monday as ever a school-boy did at the sweet sound of play-time, fixed the House to meet to-morrow.
February 5th, Saturday. — The Senate met. I found Hamilton with the committee who had the Excise bill in their hands. We sat and sat and sat, but no report. I had busied myself in getting a return of the number of stills from the different members of the Assembly. I went to the door of the committee-room to use it in argument with them, but, finding Hamilton still with them, I returned. Mr. Morris took the paper and went in, and I suppose no further use was made of it. He, however, restored it again. The report on the fisheries by Jefferson was directed to be printed.
No report from the committee. It was agreed to, that powers of the inspectors should extend only to the importations and distillations, but I find Hamilton will have even to modify this to his mind. Nothing is done without him. I have been troublesome in my speeches against the excise. Upon general principles it is equally exceptionable as a poll-tax. Wealth is not its only object. The mouth of one individual may be supposed to consume as much liquor as another; any difference is rather in favor of the most costly imported liquors. It is a tax oral, and has only this advantage over the poll-tax, that you may refrain from using your mouth in drinking liquor. With some people this is as impossible as to do without a head.
February 6th, Sunday. — Attended meeting and wrote letters to Harrisburg and home to my family. On the 3d of March Congress will rise. I have written for my mare to be here against that day, and from deceit, dissimulation, and ambition; from mere artificial life, whence both truth and sincerity are banished, I will go and meet nature, love, affection, and sincerity, in the embraces of my wife and dear children.
February 7th. — Attended at the Hall. Mr. King made one of his curious stretches. He said the minutes were wrong and he wished to correct them. The report, which was ordered to be printed on Saturday, he wished to be postponed to the 28th of December next, and corrected the minutes of Saturday to read so. This same King is a singular man. Under the idea of correcting the minutes he introduces matter totally new. It is not correcting matter of form, but total alteration and adjection of new matter. I opposed him, and certainly he ought to be ashamed of the measure; and yet it was carried, but amended afterward and placed nearer the truth.
There certainly is a design of quarreling with France, and that Jefferson should seem to countenance this! What can this mean? I am really astonished at all this. I think I must be mistaken, and yet to think so is to disbelieve my senses. And what can I do? I have attempted everything and effected nothing, unless it be to render myself an object of aversion. For well indeed speaks the poet:
All fear, none aid you, and few understand.
February 8th, Tuesday. — The Senate met. The Appropriation bill had the last reading. There was a pause about taking up the Excise bill, like people pausing on the brink of a precipice, afraid to take-the dangerous leap. However it was at length attempted, and we blundered to the fourth section. Objections had been made to this section, and it was expected the committee would alter it. They have done so with a vengeance. It now runs that there shall be an inspector-general over a district, the district to be divided into surveys, and an inspector to be set over each survey, who shall appoint people under him to do the business; as many of them to be appointed as the President shall think proper, and he shall pay them, too. It is the most execrable system that ever was framed against the liberty of a people. This abominable clause was postponed. The members by degrees stole away. The men who did it showed their disapprobation of it in their looks. It is in vain. Our Government can not stand. All my opposition has been considered as vain babbling. But to get quit of it in some degree this business of commitment has taken place, and now the majority have a kind of scapegoat in the committee, and a pretext for following them and disregarding opposition under the idle idea of their knowing best, having consulted Hamilton, etc., etc.
How abandoned is the conduct of these men! Abuse, rail at, oilify, and traduce the European systems of excise as much as you will; demonstrate their absurdity, villainy, and deplorable effect on society as much as you please. 'Tis all right. They echo every sentence. "Ours" is no such thing in their language; quite innocent and harmless. Yet such is the indolence of Hamilton and his adherents that they will not even use the guise of different terms or words to conduct the copy. Nor will they stop till, perhaps, as in Britain, ten men may be employed to guard one distillery.
February 9th, Wednesday. — Attended at the Hall this day, and was, perhaps, never more vexed. Were Eloquence personified and reason flowed from her tongue, her talents would be in vain in our Assembly; or, in other words, when all the business is done in dark cabals, on the principle of interested management. The Excise bill is passed, and a pretty business it is. The ministry foresee opposition, and are preparing to resist it by a band, nay, a host of revenue officers. It is put into the power of the President to make as many districts, appoint as many general surveyors and as many inspectors of surveys as he pleases, and thus multiply force to bear down all before him. War and bloodshed are the most likely consequence of all this. Congress may go home. Mr. Hamilton is all-powerful, and fails in nothing he attempts. Little avail as I was sure it would be of, I nevertheless endeavored not to be wanting in my duty, and told them plainly of the precipice which I considered them as having approached; that the Legislature of Pennsylvania had been obliged to wink at the violation of her excise laws in the western parts of the State ever since the Revolution; that, in my opinion, it could not be enforced by collectors or civil officers of any kind, he they ever so numerous; and that nothing short of a permanent military force could effect it; that this, for aught I knew, might be acceptable to some characters. I could only answer for myself that I did not wish it, and would avoid every measure that tended to make it necessary.
February 10th, Thursday. — I returned home this day from the Senate chamber more fretted and really more off the center of good humor than ever I did in my life. I really was ready to pray, "Lord, deliver us from rascals!" I can not have charity enough to believe that the prevailing party in our Senate are honest men. Some letters, however, have come in since yesterday from New England, and Strong was willing to move the reductions which we wanted. After the bill was read over and really for the question, Foster, from Rhode Island, moved a reduction of three cents on the distillations from molasses, etc. I rose and seconded him, on condition of his extending the motion through all the distillations in the United States and a reduction to forty cents on the contents of stills.
King objected to the lessening of the ratio, as productive of deficiencies in the revenue demanded. I showed, in answer, that the importation into the port of Philadelphia, and the stuns expected from the stills in this State, would go in a great way toward raising one half of the eight hundred and twenty-six thousand dollars demanded by the Secretary.
Elsworth answered, with rudeness, that I was mistaken; that the Secretary demanded a million and a half. I replied by reading part of the Secretary's report, which confirmed the position I had made, and repeated my other arguments. He did not reply. This man has abilities, but abilities without candor and integrity are characteristics of the devil.
At half after three the question was ready to be put. Henry, of Maryland, told me he had a bet depending with Butler on the division of the House, and desired the yeas and nays. I needed not this excuse, and called sharply for the yeas and nays. With all their strength, they were startled; and up got King, and round and round and about and about; one while commit; then recommit; then postpone. Elsworth, too, had the world and all to say; and now, in fact, they are afraid of the figure they have raised; and the fourth section was recommitted. This whole day Mr. Morris was dead against me in the voting way; sat quite away back from me, but spoke none, either way.
February 11th. — I find this day that the reason for recommitting the Excise bill yesterday was to enable Hamilton to come forward with some new schemes. Three new clauses were brought forward, and all from the Treasury. The obnoxious one (to me at least) was the putting it in the power of the President to form districts by cutting up the States so as to pay no respect to their boundaries. This was curiously worded. For fear of the little States taking any alarm, it stood by adding "from the great to the lesser States." This they got adopted. And having been successful so far, King got up and talked about it and about it. He wanted the United States divided into a number of districts, independent of any of the State boundaries. Like an Indian at the war-post, he wrought himself into a passion; declared that we "had no right to pay any more attention to the State boundaries than to the boundaries of the Cham of Tartary."
When he had spent his froth on this subject, up got Elsworth and echoed most of what he said, but said he wished only three great districts, and the President might subdivide each into six. When he had done, up got Mr. Morris and declared himself in sentiment with King, and spoke against the conveniency of the State boundaries.
King arose again, repeated his old arguments, and wished for an opportunity for taking a question on the principle of dividing the United States without any regard to their boundaries. At length, pop out of his pocket comes a resolution. It imported that the United States should be divided into six districts: two east of the Hudson, two from that to the Potomac, and two from that southward, or words to that import; and that the President should subdivide these into surveys, etc. This pretty system was, after all, negatived.
Annihilation of State government is undoubtedly the object of these people. The late conduct of our State Legislature has provoked them beyond all bounds. They have created an Indian war, that all army may Spring out of it; and the trifling affair of our having eleven captives at Algiers (who ought long ago to have been ransomed) is made the pretext for going to war with them, and fitting out a fleet. With these two engines, and the collateral aid derived from a host of revenue officers, farewell freedom in America. Gently, indeed, did I touch it in argument; but is not a motion for the destruction of rite individuality of the States, treason against the duty of a Senator, who, from the nature of his appointment, ought to be guardian of the State right? The little I said, however, I believe raised a goblin that frightened them from the project, at least for this time.
February 12th. — This day we passed the excise law; a pretty piece of business it is. I found there was an unwillingness in many of time members to have the yeas and nays. I, however, called them sharply, and enough rose, and I had the pleasure of giving my decided negative against what I considered the box of Pandora with regard to the happiness of America.
The communications came in this morning respecting the Indian affairs, and the bill as ordered to be printed. As we came down-stairs, Dr. Johnson spoke with great joy. "No," said he, "all is over, and the business is complete. We have a revenue that will support the Government and every necessary measure of Government We have now the necessary support for national measures," etc. I told him we might perhaps undo all; that the high demands we had made would raise opposition, and that opposition might endanger the Government. He seemed a little struck. I repeated that the Government might, and perhaps would, fall by her overexertion to obtain support.
I called this evening at Boyd's. I found Gallatin and Beard and James Finley. I told them I wished to hear them speak freely on the defense of the frontiers. Some desultory discourse passed. I sat awhile, and Dr. Hutchinson came in, greasy as a skin of oil and puffing like a porpoise. This must certainly be a dirty fellow if external appearances do not much belie mental management and internal intention. Fame fixes them on the same footing, and I fancy for once she has not sounded a false alarm. He had a pretty tale to rattle over, quite new, quite à la Doctor, quite medical. Is the town sickly, Doctor? No, no; yes, yes, for the season. Accident, accident; half a family struck down yesterday. They had fed on pheasant. All who had eaten affected; all the doctors called; discharged the offensive food; recovered: the craws of the pheasants examined; laurel-leaves found in them. The death of Judge Bryan explained; he and his wife ate pheasant; both felt torpid; she evacuated, he died. And thus we were entertained with the belchings of this bag of blubber for half an hour. I took my hat and left them.
I had come but a few steps when I met Mr. W. Finley; told him I had called to talk on the subject of the Western war with the Indians; that, although the management would be in different hands, yet, as the means must be furnished by us, it was in some measure necessary to contemplate the mode. He immediately quit the subject and got at the excise. It must be submitted to; great credit due to the General Government; very honorable management to raise the debts to their full value, etc. In short, I believe he forgot himself or the company he was in. I begged pardon for stopping him in the street and left him. He chose to let me know of his communications with General Knox and other great men, etc.
February 13th, Sunday. — I went to a meeting at Market Street. Came home. The day rather disagreeable in the afternoon, and I stayed at home the residue of the day. I had made a remark here which I think it, best to erase. Spent the day mostly in reading. Went, however, down-stairs; found a large company; the subject was religion, and most unmercifully was it handled. The point which was attempted to be established was that the whole was craft and imposition; that all our objects were before us — believe what you see; observe the fraud and endless mischiefs of ecclesiastics in every age, etc. Few of the historic facts which they adduced could be refuted, but by way of opposition Luther's Reformation was mentioned. It was easily answered that, had there been no abuse, they needed no reformation. But a further remark was suggested — that Luther was a mere political machine in the hands of those German princes who could no longer bear to see their subjects pillaged by Roman rapacity. The doctrine was, pay for indulgences and purchase salvation with good works, alias money. The new doctrine was, faith is better than cash; only believe, and save your money. It need not be doubted but the new doctrine was on this account more acceptable to both prince and people. Luther, however, had the Scripture with him.
Another position I thought still less tenable; that man was but the first animal in nature, that he became so by the feelings of his fingers and hence all his faculties. Give, said they, only a hand to a horse, he would rival all the human powers. This I know to be groundless. The 'possum, from its feeble, harmless, and helpless faculties, is almost extinct in Pennsylvania, and yet one that I killed on the island at Juniata had as complete a hand, with four fingers and a thumb, as one of the human species.
February 14th. — 'Tis done. I doubt no longer. This day came in a bulky communication from the President. The amount was the result of a negotiation carried on by his order with the court of Great Britain through the agency of Gouverneur Morris. From the letters from the President it appears that the vote against discrimination which had involved us in difficulties with France was the work of the President, avowedly procured by his influence; and that he did it to facilitate a connection with Great Britain, thus offering direct offense to France and incurring the contempt of Britain, for she has spurned every overture made to her. And now the result is, I suppose, a war with Great Britain; at least these troops are, as I suppose, meant to wrest the posts from her. She will resist. Reprisals at sea will take place, and all the calamities of war ensue.
It is with difficulty that I refrain from giving the most severe language to some of our Senators. King vapored this day at a most unaccountable rate. The opponents to the Constitution, said he, were blind; they did not see the ground to attack it on. I could have shown them how to defend it. The most popular ground against it never was touched. The business was now complete. We need not care for opposition. Henry, of Maryland, joined with him; said the Constitution of the United States implied everything; it was a most admirable system. Thus did these heroes vapor and boast of their address in having cheated the people and establishing a form of government over them which none of them expected.
I will here leave a blank to copy General Washington's letters in. Perhaps this is wrong, for I never can contemplate the insult offered to France, to procure more agreeable arrangements, without feeling resentment.
The system laid down by these gentlemen was avowedly as follows, or, rather, the development of the designs of a certain party:
The general power to carry the Constitution into effect by a constructive interpretation would extend to every case that Congress may deem necessary or expedient. Should the very worst thing supposable happen, viz., the claim of any of the States to any of the powers exercised by the General Government, such claim will be treated with contempt. The laws of the United States will be held paramount to all their laws, claims, and even Constitutions. The supreme power is with the General Government to decide in this, as in everything else, for the States have neglected to secure any umpire or mode of decision in case of the differences between them. Nor is there any point in the Constitution for them to rally under. They may give an opinion, but the opinion of the General Government must prevail, etc. This open point, this unguarded pass, has rendered the General Government completely uncontrollable. With a fleet and army, which the first war must give us, all the future will be chimerical.
I ventured to dissent from these political heroes by declaring that the people themselves would guard this pass; that the right of judging with respect to encroachments still remained with the people; it was originally with them, and they never had divested themselves of it.
With all their art, however, since they now confess their views, I think they have made but a bungling hand of it. The old Congress had no power over individuals, and, of course, no system of consolidation could take place. Their legislative or recommendatory powers were over States only. The new Constitution, by the instrumentality of the judiciary, etc., aims at the government of individuals, and the States, unless as to the conceded points, and with regard to their individual sovereignty and independence, are left upon stronger ground than formerly, and it can only be by implication or inference that the General Government can exercise control over them as States. Any direct and open attack would be termed usurpation. But whether the gradual influence and encroachments of the General Government may not gradually swallow up the State governments is another matter.
February 15th. — This day was rather unimportant in the Senate. General Dickenson and I had a long discourse in the committee-room. The subject was the speculation of the Treasury, or, I should rather say, of Hamilton. Nobody can prove these things, but everybody knows them. Mr. Morris labored, in private, with me this day to get me to join in postponing the complaints of the French court. The President, although it is undeniable that it was through his instrumentality that the offense was given to France, yet now wishes all this done away; the breach made up with France, and the resentment shown to England. The measure is right, but his motives wrong. Never should the paths of rectitude be forsaken. Had the President left Congress to themselves the discrimination would have obtained, and as the discrimination had heretofore obtained by the State laws, England would have taken no umbrage, and we should have experienced no interruption of harmony with France. The crooked policy of the President has involved us in difficulty. Unless we repeal the law, we lose forever the friendship of France. And even after repealing it the confidence of France in us will be impaired, as she may attribute our first motives to ingratitude and our last to fear. Continuing the law will have no effect on Britain, as she has already treated General Washington's application with contempt, but a repeal of it will be followed with a burst of resentment. This we will have to submit to and ought not to regard.
King delivered an opinion that Executive papers should be delivered to the President's private secretary. It was evident he alluded to the communications of yesterday and to the strictures passed on them. No vote was taken on the subject, but I have hitherto been unsuccessful in endeavoring to lay my hands on them.
February 16th. — Engaged this morning in unimportant matters about the land-office and other places.
After the Senate met, Mr. Carrol moved for leave to bring in a bill supplementary to the Residence bill. The matter, I believe, stands thus, in fact: Virginia is not fully satisfied without having half of the ten miles square. She gives the one hundred and twenty thousand dollars, perhaps, on this very principle of having Alexandria included. This can not be done without the supplementary law, which is now applied for. I spoke to Mr. Morris and gave him my thoughts on the matter. He made a just observation: "There will be people enough to manage this affair without our taking a part in it." The rule demands one day's notice to be given for bringing in a bill. Carrol withdrew his motion on being told of this, but afterward hoped that the Senate would indulge him by common consent. Elsworth, however, said it had better lie over one day.
My friend, on the subject of resolution, told me that he had some conversation on that subject with the Speaker of the State Senate. The result was, that they would soon elect a new Senator; said he found him wavering, but on the whole considered him as friendly. I had business out, and called on Mr. Montgomery; told him that the agricultural interest of Pennsylvania ought to unite; that it was the policy of the city to disunite Finley and myself and run in Bingham; at least, this was the game he was playing. He agreed with me. Mr. Smilie soon after called on me. He spoke more harshly of Finley, particularly of his insufferable vanity, than ever I heard any one do before. He promised he would call on me.
I returned to the Senate. Found the drafts of General Harmer's expedition before the committee. They look finely on paper, but, were we to view the green bones and scattered fragments of our defeat on the actual field, it would leave very different ideas on our minds. This is a vile business, and must be much viler. I believe I ought not to vote for any of the new bill.
February 17th. — This day Mr. Carrol's motion for the amendatory act respecting the Potomac was to be taken up. Mr. Morris was very late in coming. It is remarkably singular that I never knew him otherwise when a debate was expected. I, however, wish he had stayed away, for he voted for leave to bring in rite bill. I confess, to my astonishment, I saw him considerably embarrassed. How noble it is to be independent!
Leave was obtained, and the bill read. The Military bill was reported, with amendments much longer than itself. They were ordered to be printed. I shall most undoubtedly vote against the augmentation of the troops. The war is undertaken without the shadow of authority from Congress, and this war is the pretext for raising an army meant to awe our citizens into submission. Fitzsimons has been heard declaring that one thousand men would avenge the insults offered to Congress. Where are these things to end? By the "insult offered to Congress" is meant the State deliberations, etc., respecting the excise. But I can already plainly see that all this matter will vanish in air. Finley, Gallatin, Smilie, Montgomery, in fact all the conductors of the business, having nothing further in view than the securing themselves niches in the six-dollar temple of Congress, and then popular measures are only meant as the step-ladder to facilitate their ascent. I confess I have more than once been taken in with the sunshine of some of their speeches in my favor, but actions are louder than words. I have differed beyond the power of reconciliation with the citizens and high-flying Federalists, and genuine republicanism has been my motive. If the old constitutional party were really patriots, they would glory in taking me up. This, however, is not the case; and I am greatly mistaken if they do not lord it with as high a hand over the people, should they get into Congress, as the present majority, and perhaps even there we may not hear a word against the excise.
February 18th. — A number of communications were handed in respecting the appointment of David Humphreys, resident at the court of Portugal. The President sends first, and asks our advice and consent afterward.
Now Carrol's amendatory bill was called up. It was debated with temper, but a good deal of trifling discourse was had upon it. I had determined to say nothing upon the subject. I, however, changed my mind, and made the following remarks:
So far as I had an opportunity of knowing the public mind, the expectations of the people had been disappointed. A belief had obtained that the President would appoint three commissioners, who under his direction would lay out the ten miles square. I did not arraign his authority, and did not call it in question, but he had done himself what should have been done by others under his direction. I would neither pull down nor build up. Let the measure rest on the law. If all was right, it would support itself; if wrong, our mending it was improper, etc.
Mr. Morris followed me. I could not well collect his drift; but he said, with pretty strong emphasis, that if any one would move a postponement, he would be for it. This hint was laid hold on by Langdon and Schuyler, and a postponement moved, which was carried. Mr. Morris sustained a small attack from Gunn for this as an indirect way of getting rid of the measure. Twice, however, did Mr. Morris declare he would vote for the bill if the question. was taken on it. I think this kind of conduct ill judged, for the court will think as ill of him as they do of me, who voted dead against the measure from the beginning.
Oh, I should note that Mr. Jefferson with more than Parisian politeness, waited on me at my chamber this morning. He talked politics, mostly the French difference and the whale-fishery; but he touched the Potomac, too, as much as to say, "There, oh, there."
Wednesday, 23d. — I have in general been so closely engaged that I have not had time to minute the daily transactions, and, indeed, unless I wish gratification to myself, there is no use in it, for no man has called on me for any information. On Friday the amendatory act was taken up and read, and postponed for a week. Mr. Morris, Langdon, and Schuyler voted for the postponement. They might as well have voted against the bill, for the postponement is equally ungrateful at court. Saturday we had communications from the President, etc.
A most villainous bill (in my opinion) was committed to General Dickenson, Wingate, and myself. It was for paying off at par one hundred and eighty-six thousand dollars due to foreign officers. This was a domestic debt beyond a doubt. The bill went to pay it out of the funds appropriated to foreign debt. Strip it, however, of all coloring, it is to sanctify the most abandoned speculation. Some say the whole of it has already been bought up. I set myself to defeat it, and happily succeeded. The consequence is, that I have all the Secretary's [Hamilton's] gladiators upon me. I have already offended Knox and all his military arrangements; I have drowned Jefferson's regards in the Potomac. Hamilton with his host of speculators is upon me, and they are not idle; the city hates me, and I have offended Morris, and my place must go. My peace of mind, however, shall not go, and like a dying man I will endeavor that my last moments be well spent.
Tuesday my report was read, and Wednesday it was agreed to, or at least the resolution subjoined was adopted, that the bill should not pass to a third reading. Business crowded much, and I have almost determined to pass all. The difference, however, on the new impost law between the two Houses explains so fully the trim of the Senate that I must have a word or two on the subject.
The bill commonly called the excise law, though the term is carefully avoided in the law, puts it in the power of the President to appoint as many inspectors as he chooses, and to pay them what he pleases, so that he does not exceed five per cent on the whole sum collected. This cheek is mere nullity, and depends on a point arising posterior to the appointments. The reason given for vesting the power in the President is the want of knowledge of the subject; how many, what duties, etc., they will have to discharge. The House of Representatives seem to say that experience will dispel this ignorance in two years, and therefore they amend, limiting this power of paying, etc., to two years. No, say our Senate, we will not trust the new Congress, etc. In fact, the object is to throw all possible power into the hands of the President, even to the stripping of the Senate. A conference appointed.
It is believed that any measure that can be fairly fixed on the President will be submitted to by the people, thus making him the scapegoat of unconstitutional measures and leading them, by their affection to him, into an acquiescence in these measures that flow from him. To break down the boundaries of the States has been a desideratum. This was attempted at the time of the impost. The geographical situation of Maryland, with respect to Chesapeake Bay, afforded a pretext to do something of this kind under plea of convenience, by adding the Eastern Shore to the State of Delaware and indemnifying Maryland out of Virginia. Clouds of letters reprobated the measure. It would not do. The President is now put upon something of this kind — to alter the lines of the States, by taking from the larger and adding to the smaller — in his arrangement for collecting the excise. Will he really become the tool of his own Administration?
February 24th, Thursday. — This day nothing of moment engaged the Senate in the way of debate until the Virginia Senators moved a resolution that the doors of the Senate chamber should be opened on the first day of the next session, etc. They mentioned their instructions. This brought the subject of instructions from the different Legislatures into view.
Elsworth said they amounted to no more than a wish, and ought to be no further regarded. Izard said no Legislature had any right to instruct at all, any more than the electors had a right to instruct the President of the United States. Mr. Morris followed; said Senators owed their existence to the Constitution; the Legislatures were only the machines to choose them; and was more violently opposed to instruction than any of them. We were Senators of the United States, and had nothing to do with one State more than another. Mr. Morris spoke with more violence than usual.
Perhaps I may be considered as imprudent, but I thought I would be wanting in the duty I owed the public if I sat silent and heard such doctrines without bearing my testimony against them. I declared I knew but two lines of conduct for legislators to move in — the one absolute volition, the other responsibility. The first was tyranny, the other inseparable from the idea of representation. Were we chosen with dictatorial powers, or were we sent forward as servants of the public, to do their business? The latter, clearly, in my opinion. The first question, then, which presented itself was, were my constituents here, what would they do? The answer, if known, was the rule of the Representative. Our governments were avowedly republican. The question now before us had no respect to what was the best kind of government; but this I considered as genuine republicanism. As to the late conduct of the Legislature of Pennsylvania, I spoke with but few of them. I had no instruction from them, and, all things considered, I was happy that I had given my voice on a former occasion for it. The reasons which I gave then operated still, in full force on my mind. The first was, that I knew of no reason for keeping the door of any legislative assembly open that did not apply with equal force to us. The second was, that I thought it a compliment due to the smallest State in the Union to indulge them in such request.
The objections against it, viz., that the members would make speeches for the gallery and for the public papers, would be the fault of the members. If they waged war in words and oral combats; if they pitted themselves like cocks, or played the gladiator, for the amusement of the idle and curious, the fault was theirs; that, let who would fill the chairs of the Senate, I hoped discretion would mark their deportment; that they would rise to impart knowledge, and listen to obtain information; that, while this line of conduct marked their debates, it was totally immaterial whether thousands attended, or there was not a single spectator.
This day Butler handed forward a resolution for augmenting the salaries of all Federal officers of the different departments one fourth. It is a great object to increase the Federal offices and salaries as much as possible, to make them marks for the ambitious to aim at. This single stratagem has carried the new Government on so far with increased rapidity.
February 25th, Friday. — This was a busy day in the Senate. We had a long communication from the President respecting the loan of three million florins, which, it seems, came at five and a fourth per cent, the expenses of the negotiation being between four and five per cent up. Now was taken a bill for altering the time of the meeting of Congress. The title was the same with that of a bill rejected the other day. But the former had the first Monday in November; this had the fourth Monday in October. The President declared that, as the day was different, the bill was a different bill. There might be as many different bills as days in the year. It passed, but I confess I thought him wrong. Mr. Morris' vote carried the bill. I spoke against it, but without effect.
Now we had the resolution for opening the doors. Nine votes were given for it, and it was lost.
And now came the Potomac amendatory act. A postponement was moved, but Langdon, Schuyler, Elmer, Morris, and Read voted against the postponement and finally for the bill. This is astonishing, indeed. It is plain the President has taught them. I know not their price, but that is immaterial. I had a good opinion of Elmer once; it is with pain I retract it. I think the city [Philadelphia] must see Morris in a new point of view. Were I to give such a vote, I certainly dared not walk the streets. Mr. Morris wishes his namesake, Gouverneur (now in Europe selling lands for him) placed in some conspicuous station abroad. He has acted in a strange kind of capacity, half pimp, half envoy, or perhaps more properly a kind of political eavesdropper about the British court, for some time past. Mark the end of it. As to Langdon I am at no loss; the appointment of his brother Woodbury is sufficient explanation. Schuyler is the supple-jack of his son-in-law Hamilton. Of Elmer I know not what to say. I once thought him honest. As to Read I have heretofore known him to have been shaken by something else besides the wind.
February 26th, Saturday. — The third reading was given this day to the detestable bill of yesterday, and the last hand was put to the more detested excise law. All of these, however, were condemned as trifles in political iniquity.
For weeks has the report of the committee on the French complaints lain dormant. Shame! I believe some 'hand is keeping them back. But now a steady phalanx appeared to support the report. I opposed it what I could, and contended against the alternatives in the report of the Secretary of State as exceptional, and opposed the whole. But all in vain. The report, with some variation, was adopted. I was the only one who voted boldly and decidedly against it. I have annexed the alternatives proposed by Jefferson and the resolutions of the committee, and some of my observations in opposition to Elsworth. They may afford me some amusement at a future day. I will, however, call on Otis for a certificate of my having voted against the resolutions.
Resolved, as the opinion of the Senate, that the eighth article of the treaty of amity and commerce between the United States and his Most Christian Majesty is merely an illustration of the third and fourth articles of the same treaty by an application of the principles comprised in the last-mentioned articles to the case stated in the former.
Resolved, That the Senate do advise an answer to be given to the court of France defending this construction in opposition to that urged by the said court, and at the same time explaining in the most friendly terms the difficulties opposed to the exemptions they claim.
Second. If it be the opinion that it is advantageous for us to close with France in her interpretation of a reciprocal and perpetual exemption from tonnage, a repeal of so much of the tonnage law will be the answer.
That there has been a design to sacrifice French interest as a peace-offering to the British court I can not doubt; but that this should be persisted in after the disappointment attending Gouverneur Morris' management is strange indeed. They, however, hope, or affect to hope, to carry their point. Mr. Morris, a few days ago, asserted that we would, early this spring, have a minister from Great Britain, and the papers have many lying accounts to the same purpose.
There is a system pursuing, the depths of which I can not well fathom, but I clearly see that the poor goddess of liberty is likely to be hunted out of this quarter as well as the other quarters of the globe.
I deliberated much whether I should minute in any degree of accuracy the proceedings of this day. Hitherto delicacy has prevented me from keeping any memoranda of the executive or secret journal, but if I am ever to give any account of my conduct to the State government, there is perhaps no part to which they will turn their eyes with more attention. I have another reason for secrecy on this subject, for I certainly never behaved so badly in my life.
Elsworth opened: hoped this business would meet no further delay, as it had been long on the table, and hoped that the resolution would be adopted; that the members had full time to make up their minds, etc. I declared that opportunity as well as time was lacking, although the time had been long; some members had not had the opportunity; that I had called often for a sight of the papers, but always experienced disappointment; that I had indeed seen the alternatives offered by the Secretary of State, and no more; that eminent as rite Secretary was for abilities, I could not truly approve of any of his alternatives (here I received a loud — ), and, of course, must be opposed to the resolution which was ingrafted on tire first. To suppose that, after having passed the third and fourth articles, they were so obscure as to require a fifth by way of illustration, is an absurdity that can not obtain belief. The framers must have had a separate object in view consistent with their reputation as men of understanding, and so it clearly appeared to me.
To justify the construction I will read the articles; here I read them the third: "Grants certain rights, etc.," in trade, etc., to the subjects of the Christian king in the American ports with respect to duties and imposts. The fourth reciprocated these rights, etc., to the people of the United States in the French ports. Here I took the words "duties" and "imposts" in the strict and limited sense as applying to the impositions charged on the cargo, and to no other. The fifth article has an imposition of another kind for its object, which evidently was not considered as falling within the province of the third or fourth article, viz., tonnage, a port charge which is laid on in proportion to her burden, independent of cargo, and is charged whether she comes loaded or in ballast.
It is, in fact, the machine by which commercial nations encourage or discourage the shipping of their neighbors. I am ready to admit that the poverty or rather the want of preciseness in commercial terms often confuses and confounds them together, but with these ideas and with this view of the subject, which I am satisfied are correct, let us examine the fifth article. And the first feature that presents itself is a reciprocal design of augmenting and favoring the shipping of the contracting parties. Duties and imposts laid upon goods are taxes paid by the consumers. Tonnage is a tax on the ship. To lessen the tax on the shipping, or rather to do it away altogether, is in favor of naval property, and in this spirit ran the stipulation of the fifth article.
But if gentlemen will view them conjointly, what will be the effect? Exemptions are generally stipulated between the contracting parties in the third and fourth articles. What says the fifth? In the above exemption is particularly comprised the imposition of one hundred sols per ton, etc., with the exception of the coasting trade to French vessels between their own ports, which the Americans are allowed to balance with a similar tonnage on French vessels coasting in the American ports. And even this coasting-trade tonnage is not to continue longer than the most favored nations pay it. Will any man undertake to say, on seeing this article, that the French can legally charge the tonnage of one hundred sols or any greater or less tonnage on American vessels in their ports (unless they become coasters) consistent with treaty? I think not. If the French, then, can not on the principles of reciprocity, we can not.
What, then, is to be done? Repeal the law, but upon a different principle from that held out by the Secretary either in his second or third alternative. The second is sordid, as having advantage for its basis; the third carries something like an airy insult, as much as to say: We are right, you are wrong, but take it; our good nature shall yield to your peevishness. Second idea of compensation for favors is worse infinitely. This is a subject on which the American nation is and will be bankrupt, to compensate the political salvation of America. France ought to be placed in the deplorable position which afflicted America [was in] when rescued by her helping hand, and ought to be returned in turn. Statements that seem beyond human events. Where would have been our Washington and patriots of every grade had it not been for French interference? When the meekest and most gentlemanly of all the British commanders would not associate them with any other idea than that of a lord. Not the virtues of a Padilla would have saved one of them. No, let us do homage to the spirit and letter of [the] treaty, own our mistake, and repeal the law. I have ever thought that a liberal and manly policy, more conformable to the genius of the people, was the surest method of engaging and preserving the esteem of that magnanimous nation. And the alternative might be war and confusion.
A burst of abuse now flowed forth against the French by Elsworth in the most vituperative language that fancy could invent: Selfishness, interested views, their motive. To dismember the English empire; "Divide et imperia" their motto. Nay, slay the British subjects with the sword of their fellows. No gratitude in nations, no honor in politics. None but a fool would expect it. Serve yourself the first article is the creed of politics. No return due to them. Ridicule, not thanks, would attend acknowledgments. He [Elsworth] seemed to have mistaken the genius of the people, and said some sarcastic things about America which I could not very well comprehend. The term monkey was used; it was meant in ridicule of what I said. He fell on me with the most sarcastic severity. No confusion anywhere but in the speaker's head. Alas! how shall I write it? I almost lost my temper, and, finding no protection from the Chair, left the room.
A moment's reflection restored me. I recollected that I had the volume of Congress of 1783, which I had looked up for this occasion, before my seat, where the greatest encomiums were bestowed on the French. I returned. King was up, and, although he was in the same sentiment as Elsworth, he said Mr. Jay had given a similar construction with me, or at least I so understood him. I did not hear one of the statements which I made answered or attempted to be answered. I happened to turn round and the full-length portrait of the King and Queen of France caught my eye. I really seemed to think they would upbraid me if I was silent. I knew the disadvantage I labored under, but I got up.
Nations being composed of individuals, the virtue, character, and reputation of the nation must depend on the morals of the individual, and could have no other basis. Gratitude, generosity, sensibility of favors, benignity, and beneficence had not abandoned the human breast; in fact, these were the conditions on which the human race existed; that these passions, so far as they respected the French nation, were deeply engraved on the bosom of every American Revolutionist. I knew there were characters of a different kind in America; but for them we cared not; that I was convinced the sense of America had been fairly expressed by Congress on the resignation of General Washington, when the epithet of "magnanimous nation" was applied to them.
What were the expressions of Congress as reported by a committee, some of whom are now within my hearing, in the year 1783, with respect to that now vilified nation? "Exertions of arms," "succors of their treasury," "important loans," "liberal donations," "magnanimity," etc. Yes, all this and more, for I have the book before me. In fact, language labored and seemed to fail in expressions of gratitude to our ally. But here is a reverse indeed. If right then, we must be wrong now; and my heart tells me it is so. Vituperation and abuse, more especially in the national way, are of the reflective kind, and attach disgrace rather to the assailants than to the assailed. Who ever believed that the grins or dirty tricks of the baboon or monkey in the African or American wilds disgraced the traveler that walked below, although they attached contempt to the filthy animal above?
Elsworth took a great deal of Snuff about this time. He mumped, and seemed to chew the cud of vexation. But he affected not to hear me, and, indeed, they were all in knots, talking and whispering. Mr. Adams talked with Otis, according to custom. The committee alluded to were: Madison, Elsworth, and Hamilton. I am too sparing; I should have read that part of the report with their names.
I can not help a remark or two. A war in some shape or other seems to have been the great object with Hamilton's people. At first they would have war with the Northern Indians. That failed. They have succeeded in involving us with the Northwestern Indians. Britain at one time seemed their object. Great efforts were made to get a war with Algiers. That failed. Now it seems to be made a point to differ with the French. That lively nation do not seem to have been aware that ours was a civil war with Britain, and that the similarity of language, manners, and customs will, in all probability, restore our old habits and intercourse, and that this intercourse will revive — indeed, I fear it has already revived — our ancient prejudices against France. Should we differ with France, we are thrown inevitably into the hands of Britain; and, should France give any occasion, we have thousands and tens of thousands of anti-Revolutionists ready to blow the coals of contention.
February 27th, Sunday. — This day made inquiries of George Remsen, one of the clerks of Hamilton's office, respecting a story which is circulating with respect to Bingham having got thirty-six thousand dollars of counterfeit certificates registered and a new certificate for them. He declares the fact is so. These certificates have been copied from genuine certificates, the counterfeits handed to the Auditor (Milligan), passed by him to the Register (Nourse), and a new certificate given for the amount. Thus the counterfeits being disposed of, there could be no danger of detection, as the genuine and counterfeit ones could never meet. Now, the genuine ones coming forward to be loaned, the fraud is found out.
I dined this day with Dr. Rushton. I mentioned this circumstances. A gentleman of the name of Curry came in while I talked of it. Without mentioning names, he said this must be Mr. Swanwick. He was asked how large a certificate Swanwick had founded in this way; he said only twenty thousand dollars. Hell surely must have emptied her rascals upon us, or we never could have been served thus! Remsen has promised to give me more information on this subject.
February 28th, Monday. — This day I fell in discourse with Mr. Morris, and mentioned the thirty-six thousand dollars in possession of Bingham. It seems it is the same which Swanwick had. A Charles Young owed Swanwick, and was arrested in New York for the debt on his return from Boston; paid these certificates to Swanwick; was discharged; they were registered. Swanwick sold to Bingham for twelve hundred pounds, knowing the state of the registered certificates. This cast an air of innocence over the transaction. Perhaps we shall hear more of it.
Schuyler's bill, which went to make debts due to the United States payable in certificates, etc., the object of which could not be observed, and which truly might be called a snake in the grass, was laid over to the next session.
I could not ascertain the point in the above conversation who obtained the registry of the above certificates, and therefore have endeavored to find from Mr. Morris who discovered the cheat; at what time with respect to the registry, viz., whether before or after. But he was guarded, and either knew not or would not tell; but he admitted that they were known to be counterfeits at the time of the sale. This, in my opinion, involves both in criminality. O deluded public, little do you know of what stuff the Federal debt is composed which you are daily discharging with sorrow!
March 1st. — Attended this morning the eulogium in honor of Dr. Franklin, pronounced by Dr. Smith. People say much of it; I thought little of it. It was trite and trifling. Perhaps I am censorious. I despise Smith. He certainly is a vile character.
Much business was hurried through the Senate this day. Now is the time for dark, designing men to carry in and hurry through, under some spurious pretense, the deep-laid plots of speculation. The immature resolve and ill-digested law often escape examination while nothing but home occupies the minds of the departing members.
Few days happen in which I do not meet with something to fret my political temper, but this day I met with something that really roused every feeling of humanity about me. The President was directed some time ago to take measures to ransom eleven Americans who are slaves at Algiers. Money was appropriated for this purpose out of the Dutch loan in 1788. The President, however, sent us back a message to appropriate the money for the purpose; and now a committee, who had the African business committed to them, reported twenty thousand dollars to treat with the Emperor of Morocco, but not a cent for the poor slaves. Hard was the heart that could do it, and clay-cold was the conduct of the President even in the business. I said and did what I could, but all in vain; and we will not only confine to slavery, but murder with the plagues of that deleterious climate, these unhappy men.
Izard came over, and made a long complaint against Hamilton. Here, said he, have we been waiting, nobody knows how long, and Hamilton has promised to send us a bill for the Mint. And now at last he sends us a resolution to employ workmen. Two things are clear from this: that Hamilton prepares all matters for his tools (this I knew long ago); the other is that he has kept back this exceptionable business till there would be no time to investigate it.
Bassett this day laid on the table a resolution for a committee of hoth Houses to wait on the President to request him to take measures with the Indians, etc. A pretty pass of society we have already arrived at! It would be much more consonant to the dignity of Congress to establish a spirited inquiry how we came to be involved in a war without the authority of Congress, than to be begging our own servants to spare the effusion of human blood. Every account of this kind seems to be received with an air of satisfaction by the adherents of the Administration, as if our military defects were political virtues.
March 2d. — Oh, 'twas joyful news when I came home and found my man sent by Bob Murdock, and had the pleasure to hear of the welfare of my family. More business has been hurried through the Senate this day than has been done in a month of our former sessions at other periods. The Secretary [Hamilton] has bought the present House, and he wishes to have his money's worth out of them. The resolution of the Mint was foully smuggled through. I hope somebody will take notice of it in the other House. It is evident what a system has been adopted by the Secretary [Hamilton]. We used to canvass every subject and dispute every inch of His systems, and this sometimes detached some of his party from him and defeated him. To prevent this, all has been put off until this late moment, and now not a word will be heard. The plea of want of time prevails, and every one that attempts to speak is silenced with the cry of question and a mere insurrection of the members in support of the demand. I am at no loss now to ascertain the reason why the Mint business has been delayed and finally came forward under the form of a resolution rather than a bill. Bills can not be read out of order but by unanimous consent.
It was known that I had controverted sundry positions laid down by Hamilton in his report, and bad prepared myself on the subject. It was easy to call the question and silence debate, but now the time was short and I still had a vote. By refusing consent to an irregular reading of a bill, this rule did not extend to a common resolution. King made a motion by a side-wind to bring in the principal of the bill for paying off the foreign officers, but being smoked he sneaked off. This great man is miserably deficient in candor. He is an active member of the smuggling committee. It was to a bill for the protection of the Treasury that he wished to detach his moved amendment. This bill seemed in a peculiar manner committed to his care. Two laws empowered [the] Government to borrow of Holland: one was to pay the interest on the foreign debt; the other was to reduce the domestic debt by buying in while it was under par (this the ostensible reason, but the real one was to make a machine of this money for raising the stocks). The first was a matter of necessity, as the interest fell due. The second loan was expressly confined to be done at an interest of five per cent; but it has been done at a charge of four and one half per cent; or, in other words, ninety-five and a half only is received, on which five is paid annually as interest. How, a bill is silently passed along in the mass of business to sanctify this willful deviation. The thing is done, the money received, brought over, and in part, at least, expended. There was nobody to hear speeches or attend argument. I could not, however, help condemning the measure. The duty of the Government was to borrow at five per cent or let it alone; but if the Treasury could once establish the practice of acting without or contrary to law, the whole freedom of the Government might be sapped by fiscal arrangement, and the Congress of the United States might in time become, as in Great Britain, the mere tool of ministerial imposition and taxation.
It has been usual with declamatory gentlemen, in their praises of the present Government, by way of contrast, to paint the state of the country under the old Congress as if neither wood grew nor water ran in America before the happy adoption of the new Constitution. It would be well for the future, in such comparisons, to say nothing of national credit (which, by the by, I never considered as dependent on the prices current of certificates in the hands of speculators), for the loan of 1788 was done in Holland at five per cent, only postponed.
March 3d. — As well might I write the rambles of Harlequin Ranger or the vagaries of a pantomime as to attempt to minute the business of this morning. What with the exits and the entrances of our Otis, the announcings, the advancings, speechings, drawings, and withdrawings of Buckley and Lear, and the comings and goings of our committee of enrollment, etc., and the consequent running of doorkeepers, opening and slamming of doors, the House seemed in a continual hurricane. Speaking would have been idle, for nobody would or could hear. Had all the business been previously digested, matter or form would have been of little consequence. This, however, was not the case. It was patching, piecing, altering, and amending, and even originating new business. It was, however, only for Elsworth, King, or some of Hamilton's people to rise, and the thing was generally done. But they had overshot themselves; for, owing to little unforeseen impediments, there was no possibility of working all through, and there was to be a great dinner which must absolutely be attended to. Terrible, indeed, but no alternative — the House must meet at six o'clock.
In the evening by candle-light. When I saw the merry mood in which the Senate assembled, I was ready to laugh. When I considered the occasion, I was almost disposed to give way to a very different emotion. I did, however, neither the one nor the other; and, feeling myself of as little importance as I had ever done in my life, I took pen and paper and determined, if possible, to keep pace with the hurry of business as it passed, which I expected would now be very rapid, as I had no doubt that Hamilton's clerks had put the last hand to everything:
1. Mr. Buckley announced that he brought a new resolve for the safe-keeping of prisoners, etc.
2. A bill for compensation to commissioners of loans for extra expenses.
3. A salary bill for the executive officers, their clerks, and assistants.
4. Resolve for the President to lay before Congress anestimate of lands not claimed by Indians.
5. The Mint resolve.
These obtained the signature of the President of the Senate and were sent off for the deliberation and approbation of the President. The prisoner resolve was agreed to and sent back to the Representatives. by Otis.
6. Mr. Buckley: second message.
A new bill to carry into effect the convention with the French, etc. This business has been most shamefully neglected. I had often spoken on the subject, but my influence was gone. I had, however, spoken lately to sundry members of the House of Representatives, and even at this late hour was happy to see the bill. To speak in the present uproar of business was like letting off a pop-gun in a thunder-storm. But this was the merest matter of form possible. It was only giving the authority of law to a convention solemnly entered into with the French. My colleague cried "No!" on the second reading. I called for the yeas and nays, and not out of resentment, but merely with an exculpatory view, if this conduct should draw on us the resentment of France, for I consider it disrespectful (to say no worse) toward her and dishonorable in us.
7. Mr. Buckley: third message with the Pension, Invalid, and Lighthouse bills.
The committee reported the enrollment of the following acts:
8. For the continuance of the post-office.
9. For granting lands to the settlers at Vincennes, Illinois.
10. Supplementary act for the reduction of the public debt.
11. For granting compensation to judicial officers, witnesses, and jurymen.
These bills received the signature of the President of the Senate after being brought up by Mr. Buckley in his fourth message.
12. Who brought at the same time a new hill for the relief of David Cook? Twice heretofore has there been an attempt to smuggle this bill through in the crowd. It happened, however, to be smoked and rejected.
13. Mr. Buckley's fifth message brought a bill for making further provision for collection of duties on teas, etc., which received the signature, etc.
14. An enrolled resolve, which also received the signature, etc.
There now was such confusion with Otis, Buckley, Lear, our committee of enrollment, etc., that I confess I lost their arrangement. Indeed, I am apt to believe if they had any they lest it themselves. They all agreed at last that the business was done. The President left the chair, and the members scampered down-stairs. I stayed a moment to pack up my papers. Dalton alone came to me, and said he supposed we two would not see each other soon. We exchanged wishes for mutual welfare. As I left the Hall, I gave it a look with that kind of satisfaction which a man feels on leaving a place where he has been ill at ease, being fully satisfied that many a culprit has served two years at the wheelbarrow without feeling half the pain and mortification that I experienced in my honorable station.
- The pay of Senators and Representatives being six dollars per day.