Imágenes de páginas

His farewell address was made public in September, 1796, and he met Congress December 7th for the last time. The electoral votes, as counted by the Senate in the following February (1797), showed John Adams, of Massachusetts, to have the highest number, and he was declared President-elect; while Jefferson, who had the next number, was pronounced to be the Vice-president-elect, according to a constitutional provision since altered. On his last day in office Washington wrote to Knox comparing himself to “the weary traveller who sees a resting-place, and is bending his body to lean thereon. To be suffered to do this in peace,” he added, “is too much to be endured by some.” Accordingly, on that very day a Philadelphia newspaper dismissed him with a final tirade, whose wild folly is worth remembering by all who think that political virulence is on the increase: " Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace,


for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation!' This was the exclamation of a man who saw a flood of blessedness breaking in upon mankind. If ever there was a time that allowed this exclamation to be repeated, that time is the present. The man who is the source of all our country's misery is this day reduced to the rank of his fellow - citizens, and has no longer the power to multiply the woes of these United States. Now more than ever is the time to rejoice.

Every heart which feels for the liberty and happiness of the people must now beat with rapture at the thought that this day the name of Washington ceases to give currency to injustice and to legalize corruption. . . . When we look back upon the eight years of Washington's administration, it strikes us with astonishment that one man could thus poison the principles of republicanism among our enlightened people, and carry his designs against the public liberty so far as to endanger its very existence. Yet such is the fact, and if this is apparent to all, this day should form a jubilee in the United States."




N acute foreign observer said well, in the days

when John Adams was President, that there seemed to be in the United States many Englishmen, many Frenchmen, but very few Americans. The reason was that the French Revolution really drew a red-hot ploughshare through the history of America as well as through that of France. It not merely divided parties, but moulded them: gave them their demarcations, their watchwords, and their bitterness. The home issues were for a time subordinate, collateral; the real party lines were established on the other side of the Atlantic.

Up to the time when the Constitution was formed, it is curious to see that France was only the friend of the young nation, not its political counsellor. The proof of this is that, in the debates which formed the Constitution, France was hardly mentioned; the authorities, the illustrations, the analogies, were almost all English. Yet the leading statesmen of the period -Franklin, Jay, Adams, Jefferson-had been resident in Paris as diplomatists; and Hamilton was of French descent on the mother's side. France, however, gave them no model for imitation; the frame of government, where it was not English, was simply American. A few years more, and all was changed; in America, as in Europe, the French Revolution was the absorbing theme. The American newspapers of the day existed mainly to give information about foreign affairs; and they really gave more space to France than to their own country. They told something about the wrongs of the French people, though few besides Jefferson took them seriously to heart. They told a great deal about the horrors of the outbreak, and here men divided. American political parties were for many years embittered by the traditions of that great division.

Those who had always distrusted the masses of the people inevitably began to distrust them more than ever. They read Burke's Reflections on the French Revolution, they read Canning's editorials, and they attributed the French excesses to innate depravity, to atheism, to madness. Let the people have its own way, they argued, and it will always wish to cut off the heads of the better classes or swing them up to the street-lantern. Those who thus reasoned were themselves the better classes, in the ordinary sense; they were the clergy, the lawyers, the planters, the merchants—the men who had, or thought they had, the largest stake in the country. The Frenchmen they had seen were the young men of rank and fortune who had helped America to fight through the Revolution - generous, high-souled, joyous young soldiers, of whom Lafayette was the conspicuous type. Of the same class were the Frenchmen who had visited America since the Revolution; who had been pleased with everything and had flattered everybody. The handsome Count Fersen, who had charmed all hearts at Newport, was the very man who had, in the disguise of a coachman, driven the French King and Queen in their escape from Paris. Lauzun, the brilliant commander of French cavalry under Rochambeau, was also the picturesque hero who refused to have his hands tied on ascending the guillotine, but said gayly to the executioner, “We are both Frenchmen; we shall do our duty.” Who could help sympathizing with these fine young fellows? But this revolutionist in the red cap, this Jacques with wooden shoes, these knitting women, these terrible tricoteuses, the Federalists had not seen; and doubtless the nearer they had seen them the less they would have liked them. Consequently, like Burke, they “pitied the plumage, but forgot the dying bird." To them everything French was now pernicious; the Reign of Terror was not much worse than was the career of those more moderate revolutionists who resisted that terror or fell beneath it. The opinions of this party were best represented by that celebrated periodical, the Anti - Jacobin, now chiefly remembered by Canning's best-known poem, “The Needy Knife-Grinder." But the Anti-Jacobin lashed every grade of Frenchman and Frenchwoman with equal bitterness, if they took the side of the people; assailed Madame Roland and Madame de Staël as coarsely as it denounced Robespierre or Danton. The American Federalists held the same attitude.

To look below the surface of the French Revolution, to see in it the righting of a vast wrong, to find in that wrong some explanation of its very excesses, this view—now so generally accepted—was confined to a very few of the leaders: Jefferson, Samuel Adams, Albert Gallatin. Here, as is usual, the reformer found secret affinities with the demagogue. It is easier for the demagogue than for any one else to pose for a time as a reformer, and even to be mistaken for one; and on the other hand the reformer is always tempted to make excuses for the demagogue, since he himself has usually to wage war against the respectable classes. Some men were Federalists because they were high-minded, others because they were narrowminded; while the more far-sighted, and also the less scrupulous, became Democrats—or, in the original name, Republicans. They used this last term not in the rather vague sense of current American politics, but in a much more definite manner. In calling themselves Republicans, they sincerely believed that nobody else wished well to the republic. Thus the party lines which we should have expected to find drawn simply on American questions were in fact almost wholly controlled by European politics. The Federalists were in sympathy with England; the Democrats, or Republicans, with France; and this determined the history of the nation, its treaties and its parties, through a series of administrations.

The Federalist President-elect was John Adamsa man of great pith and vigor, whose letters and diaries are more racy than those of any man of that day, though his more elaborate writings are apt to be prolix and dull, like those of the others. He was a self-made man, as people say, and one who had a strong natural taste for rank and ceremony; even having, as John Randolph complained, “arms emblazoned on the 'scutcheon of the vice-regal carriage.” The more he held to this aristocratic position, the more people remarked his original want of it; and there have lived within half a century in Boston old ladies who still habitually spoke of him as “that cobbler's son.” But he was a man, moreover,

« AnteriorContinuar »