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Under the decree of the directory of the second of July, 1796, before noticed, the American commerce at once became a prey to French public and private armed vessels. Additional decrees were also issued by French agents in the West Indies; and American vessels were taken and condemned, even because bound to a British port, and on various other new and frivolous pretences. The want of, or informality in a bill of lading—the want of a certified list of the passengers and crew-the supercargo being by birth a foreigner, although a naturalized citizen of the United States-the destruction of a paper of any kind whatever, and the want of a sea-letter, were sufficient reasons for condemnation.
On the 19th of January, 1797, the president, agreeably to the intimation in his speech at the opening of the session, communicated to the national legislature, the state of the relations of the country with the French republic. This embraced an elaborate review of the conduct of France and her ministers towards the United states, and of their various complaints against the American government, from an early period of the European war; and which was embodied in a letter from the secretary of state to Mr. Pinckney, the American minister in France. It contained not only an able review, but an ample refutation of the various charges made by France, as well as a complete justification of the conduct of president Washington towards that nation, during a period most interesting to his country, and most trying to himself.
This exposition was made to enable the American minister at Paris more fully to make explanations to the French government, as well as to present to the American people the views of the president in his conduct towards France; views, which had been so grossly misrepresented. It created no change, however, in the conduct of France, and produced little effect on the parties in America. The great contest between these parties, relative to the successor of president Washington, at that time absorbed every other consideration. On counting the electoral votes, in February, it appeared that John Adams, by a small majority, was
elected president, and that Thomas Jefferson was chosen vicepresident.
On the 4th of March, 1797, the administration of president Washington closed-a period to which he had looked forward with inexpressible pleasure.
On retiring from office he received addresses from the legislatures of many of the states, as well as from numerous other public bodies in different parts of the union.
The situation of his country at this time, when contrasted ed with that in 1789, at the commencement of his administration, presented a very striking difference; and this was a subject of congratulation which did not pass unnoticed in these various addresses. In the short period of eight years, all the disputes between the United States and foreign nations had been adjusted, with the exception of those with France, which had arisen during that time, out of the new state of things in Europe.
At home, public and private credit was restored-ample provision made for the security and ultimate payment of the public debt-commerce had experienced unexampled prosperity-American tonnage had nearly doubled-the products of agriculture had found a ready market-the exports had increased from nineteen millions to more than fifty six millions of dollarsthe imports in about the same proportion-and the amount of revenues from imports had exceeded the most sanguine calculations. The prosperity of the country had been, indeed, without example, notwithstanding great losses from belligerent depredations.
In announcing his determination to decline another election, president Washington, for the last time, addressed his fellow citizens, on subjects which he deemed highly important and intimately connected with their future political welfare and felicity. Long experience had made him fully acquainted with the evils, to which the people of the United States, from their local situation, the nature of their government, and other causes, were particularly exposed. This experience, and his well known disinterestedness, VOL. II.
gave his sentiments and advice respecting the various subjects on which he touched, peculiar claims to the attention, and gratitude of his fellow citizens.
Although this address is very generally known, we cannot, in the conclusion, refrain from recalling to the notice of our readers, particularly the younger part of them, a small portion of this inestimable legacy which the father of his country left them.
An inviolable preservation of the great charter, which formed the national union, and made the Americans one people, was an object very near his heart.
"The unity of government," he said, " which constitutes you one people, is now dear to you. It is justly so; for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence; the support of your tranquility at home; your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But, as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed, to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively, (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment, that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immoveable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it, as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can, in any event, be abandoned, and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts."
He reminded his fellow citizens, that "the very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government, presupposes the duty of individuals to obey the established government;" and that "all obstructions to the execution of the laws,
all combinations and associations under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberations and actions of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle." And after warning them "in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally," he particularly cautioned them to avoid "inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others," as tending to introduce foreign influence, against which he particularly warned them to be on their guard. "Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence, (I conjure you to believe me fellow citizens,) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake; since history and experience prove, that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful, must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation, and excessive dislike for another, cause those whom they actuate, to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favorite, are liable to become suspected and odious; while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.
"The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith -Here, let us stop."
But above all, this great and good man reminded his fellow citizens, that without religion and morality, they would expect political prosperity in vain.
"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity," he observed, “religion and morality are indispensible supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.
The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them-a volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligations desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? and let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."