Imágenes de páginas

promise into its epoch of terror, had divided American fecling as it had not before been sundered. This formidable French question had ceased to be a mere test of political sympathy; it was a matter of social feeling as well. England was the traditional enemy of the nation, France the traditional friend; yet France was causing horror to the world, while England stood for established order. Those who had tried to save the American experiment by keeping as near the English constitution as possible might well point to France as the example of the opposite method. Accordingly, the Federalists, who comprised the wealthier and more prominent class of the nation, renewed their fidelity to the English traditions. They called the Democrats sans culottes, and regarded them not merely as belonging to the less educated and less dignified class—which was true--but as socially polluted and degraded. When the President's wife found that her granddaughter, Nelly Custis, had been receiving a guest in her absence, she asked who it was; then noticing a stain where a head had rested against the straw-colored wall-paper, she exclaimed: “It was no Federalist: none but a filthy Democrat would mark the wall with his good-for-nothing head in that manner.” Such remarks, when repeated from mouth to mouth, did not conduce to the amenities of life.

Yet the good lady had plenty of provocation. Much could be pardoned to a wife who had seen on printed handbills the coarse wood-cuts that represented Washington as placed upon the guillotine like the French king. Such a caricature, when injudiciously shown by Knox to the President at a cabinet meeting, drove him into “a transport of passion,"

according to the not always trustworthy record of Jefferson; how, then, could his wife be indifferent to it? There was really nothing serious to quarrel about in the home affairs of the country. The charge of monarchical tendencies amounted to nothing; the clear-headed Oliver Wolcott wrote that he could not find a man of sense who seriously believed it; and yet Washington was abused as if he carried a crown in his pocket. These attacks came most furiously from the poet Freneau in his National Gazette, established October 31, 1791; and Jefferson, in whose office Freneau was translating clerk, declared that this newspaper had saved the Constitution, which was "galloping fast into monarchy"; that it had “checked the career of the Monocrats,” and the like. Washington must have chafed all the more under these attacks because the editor, with persistent and painful courtesy, sent him four copies of every issue-a refinement of cruelty such as our milder times can hardly parallel.

All these troubles were exasperated by the arrival, on April 9, 1793, of the first envoy of the new French republic, M. Genêt. He was received with a display of enthusiasm that might have turned any man's head, and his, apparently, needed no turning. His journey from Charleston, South Carolina, to Philadelphia was like the reception of Lafayette; all the triumphant rights of man were supposed to be embodied in him, and the airs he took upon himself seem now incredible. He undertook to fit out privateers in American ports, and to bring prizes into those ports for condemnation by French consuls; and when Washington checked this impertinence, he threatened to appeal from Washington to the people. The nation was instantly divided into two parties, and whatever extravagances the French sympathizers might commit the Federalists doubled them in imagination. They sincerely believed that all sorts of horrors were transacted at the banquets given to Genêt; that the guests in turn wore the red revolutionary cap—the bonnet rouge; that a roasted pig received the name of the slain king of France, and that the severed head was offered in turn to each guest, who exclaimed, theatrically, “Tyrant!” and struck it with his knife. These stories may have been chiefly false, but they produced as much effect as if they had been true. On the other hand, Genêt behaved so foolishly and insolently that Jefferson had to abandon his cause. “If our citizens,” he wrote, “have not already been shedding each other's blood, it is not owing to the moderation of Mr. Ģenêt.” Jefferson himself assented to Washington's proclamation of neutrality (April 22, 1793), though he rejoiced that it was not issued under that precise name. Indeed, throughout the excitement, Jefferson seems to have contributed only the needful influence to do justice to the French view of the question, and was less extravagant in that way than Hamilton on the other side.

But after all these extravagances, real or reputed, it was natural that every outbreak should be charged to the “democratic societies." Washington thought that they instigated the Whiskey Insurrection which arose in Pennsylvania in 1794 against the excise laws

-an insurrection which denounced such laws as "the horror of all free States," and went so far as to threaten separation from the Union. It was Hamilton who had framed the law which caused the revolt, and

Hamilton contributed the admirable suggestion by which it was quelled. His plan was to call out so large a force as instantly to overawe the insurrection and crush it without firing a shot. Washington accordingly summoned out 13,000 militia, and the work was done. Unfortunately, it led to the reaction which usually follows a complete strategic success- -people turn round and say that there never was any danger. The most skilful victories even in war are the bloodless ones, but it is apt to be bloodshed alone that wins laurels. It happened thus in this case. Jefferson declared the affair to have been merely a riot, and not nearly so bad as the excise law which created it; he held to the theory which he had announced during Shays's rebellion, that an occasional popular commotion was a good remedy for too much government.

Jay's treaty with England (November 19, 1794) was the turning-point of the personal popularity of Washington. From that time a large and increasing minority opposed the President with all the bitterness of the period—that is, furiously. The treaty secured the withdrawal of the British garrisons from the northwest, and it guaranteed payment from the British treasury for all illegal captures—a payment that amounted to ten millions of dollars. So far it might have been popular, but it provided also for the payment of all debts owed before the Revolution by Americans to British subjects, and this would have been enough to make it unpalatable. But it also had to encounter the rising sympathy for France, and this led to the most vehement opposition. The indignation against it broke out in mobs. Jay was burned or hanged in effigy in several cities; Adams was in one case hanged beside him, with a purse of English guineas in his hand; and the treaty itself was burned in Philadelphia by a mob of ten thousand people, before the windows of the British Minister. Hamilton, in speaking for it at a public meeting in New York, was assailed by a volley of stones. “Gentlemen,” he said, “if you use such strong arguments, I must retire. But he only retired to write a series of papers in defence of the treaty, which was ratified in June, 1795, by just the needful two-thirds vote after a fortnight of discussion.

We think of those times as purer than the present; yet the perennial moaning over the decline of the republic had already begun in the first decade of its existence. Fauchet, the French Minister who succeeded Genêt, declared, truly or falsely, that Edmund Randolph, who was at first Attorney-general, but had now succeeded Jefferson as Secretary of State, had come to him and asked for a bribe to espouse the French side. “Thus," said the indignant Frenchman, "the consciences of the pretended patriots of America have already their prices. What will be the old age of this government if it is thus already decrepit!" And as to political violence, the habitual abuse of Washington went on increasing; the Democratic Republicans spoke of him habitually in their private meetings as “Montezuma"; they allowed him neither uprightness, nor pecuniary honesty, nor military ability, nor even personal courage.

He himself wrote that every act of his administration was tortured, and the grossest misrepresentations made "in such exaggerated and indecent terms as could scarcely be applied to a Nero, to a notorious defaulter, or even to a common pickpocket.'

« AnteriorContinuar »