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Chapter 7

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Washington and His Colleagues

by
Henry Jones Ford

in the
Chronicles of America edition,
Yale University Press,
New Haven, 1918

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 9

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p164 Chapter VIII
Party Violence

When, in July, 1793, Jefferson notified the President of his wish to resign from the Cabinet, Hamilton's resignation had already been before the President for several weeks. Ever since the removal of Congress to Philadelphia, Hamilton's circumstances had become less and less able to endure the strain of maintaining his official position on a salary of $3500 a year. He had fully experienced the truth of the warnings he had received that, if he gave himself to the public service, he might spend his time and substance without receiving gratitude for his efforts or credit for his motives. His vocation for statesmanship, however, was too genuine and his courage too high for such results to dishearten him. He had now accomplished what he had set out to do in securing the adoption of the measures which established the new government, and he no longer regarded his p165administrative position as essential to the success of his policy. Meanwhile the need had become urgent that he should resume the practice of his profession to provide for his family. It was not in his nature, however, to leave the front when a battle was coming on, and, although he gave early notice of his intention so that Washington should have ample time to look about for his successor, the resignation was not to become effective until Congress had met and shown its temper. According to Jefferson, Washington once remarked to him that he supposed Hamilton "had fixed on the latter part of next session to give an opportunity to Congress to examine into his conduct." Although Hamilton had made up his mind to retire, he intended to march out with flying colors, as became the victor on a hard-fought field. So far, he had met and beaten all enemies who had dared to assail his honor; he meant to beat them again if they renewed the attack, and he had word that one encounter was coming more formidable than any before.

Hamilton's success in carrying his measures through Congress, by sheer dexterity of management when numbers were against him, added intense bitterness to the natural chagrin felt by p166the defeated faction. Men like Jefferson and Madison were subject to traditions of behavior that required them to maintain a certain style of public decorum no matter how they might rage in private. But new men with new manners were coming on the scene, and among them the opposition to Hamilton had found a new leader — William Branch Giles of Virginia. He was a Princeton graduate of the class of 1781, had studied for the bar, and had been admitted to practice in 1786. To the full legal equipment of the period he added an energy and an audacity that speedily brought him legal and political distinction. He was active and outspoken in advocating the adoption of the new Constitution, at a time when popular sentiment in Virginia was strongly inclined to be adverse. He had no hesitation about undertaking unpopular causes, and hence British debt cases became a marked feature of his practice. Virginia State law had suspended the recovery of debts due British subjects until reparation had been made for the loss of negro slaves taken away by the British during the war, and until the western posts had been surrendered. But the peace treaty of 1783 stipulated that creditors on neither side should meet with lawful impediment p167in the recovery of debts, and by the new Constitution treaties had become part of the law of the land. On the basis of a national jurisdiction in conflict with the Virginia statutes, Giles acted so energetically, that he himself related that by 1792 he had been employed in at least one hundred British debt cases, and was "as successful in collecting monies under judgments as is usually the case with citizens."

Comprehension of the true nature of the struggle in which Giles became conspicuous must start with the fact that the Constitution was reluctantly accepted and with great uneasiness as to possible consequences. In the Virginia convention of 1788, it was declared that the new Constitution was essentially a scheme of the military men to subject the people to their rule. This argument was not so much met as avoided by the declaration that there could be no tyranny while Washington lived. The rejoinder was obvious: what if he should not be able to withstand military influence? What if, in spite of him, the government should be given a dangerous character that would develop after he passed away? Jefferson had felt misgivings on this score from the first, and Madison experienced them as soon as differences on practical p168measures arose between himself and Hamilton. Jefferson and Madison wanted the government to be made respectable but not strong. Hamilton saw what they could not see — and indeed what few at that time could see — that a government cannot be made respectable without being made strong.

Washington was probably without any clear views of his own on constitutional questions, and what evidence there is on this point supports Jefferson's claim that Washington was more disposed to confide in him and in Madison than in Hamilton. When Jefferson relinquished the State Department, Washington proposed to give Madison the post, but was told he would not think of taking it. Washington then transferred Randolph to the position because he could not get anybody else of suitable capacity. Whatever Washington's personal inclinations may have been, he was in a position in which he had to act. Hamilton was the only one whom he could find to show him the way, and thus circumstances more and more compelled Washington to accept Hamilton's guidance, while at the same time it seemed increasingly clear to the opposition that it was above all things necessary to crush Hamilton. This state of sentiment must p169be kept in mind in order to make intelligible the rabid violence of the party warfare which had long been going on against Hamilton, and which — now that Jefferson had left the Cabinet — was soon to be extended to Washington himself.

When Giles went to the front in this war, both Jefferson and Madison were busy behind the firing line supplying munitions. Giles was elected in 1790 to fill a vacancy caused by the death of Theodorick Bland, and took his seat in the third session of the First Congress. The assumption bill had been passed, but that was only the first of the series of financial measures proposed by Hamilton, and Giles followed Madison's lead in unsuccessful resistance to the excise and to the national bank. Giles was re-elected to the Second Congress, which opened on October 24, 1791. In the course of this session he became the leader of the opposition, not by supplanting Madison but through willingness to take responsibilities from which Madison, like Jefferson, shrank, because he, too, preferred activity behind the scenes. This situation has often occurred in parliamentary history — a zealous party champion scouting the scruples and restraints that hampered the official leadership, and assuming an independent line of p170attack with the covert favor and assistance of that leadership. In the effort to crush Hamilton a series of raids was led by Giles, whose appetite for fighting could never be extinguished no matter how severe might be his defeat.

After much preliminary skirmishing which put heavy tasks on Hamilton in the way of getting up reports and documents, a grand attack was made on January 23, 1793. A series of resolutions, in drafting which Madison and Jefferson took part, was presented, calling for minute particulars of all loans, names of all persons to whom payments had been made, statements of semi-monthly balances between the Treasury and the Bank, and an account of the sinking fund and of unexpended appropriations, — all from the beginning of the government until the end of 1792. The resolution required Hamilton to complete and state all the accounts of the Treasury Department up to a period only a little over three weeks before the resolutions were presented, and to give a detailed transcript of particulars. But the Treasury accounts were in such perfect order, and so great was Hamilton's capacity for work, that the information called for was promptly transmitted in reports dated February 4, February 13, and February 14. At p171the same time Hamilton hit back by observing that the resolutions "were not moved without a pretty copious display of the reasons on which they were founded," which "were of a nature to excite attention, to beget alarm, to inspire doubts."

Giles was soon able to renew the attack. Jefferson and Madison helped him to prepare a series of nine resolutions which were presented on February 2. They specifically charged Hamilton with violation of law, neglect of duty, transgression of the proper limits of his authority, and indecorum in his attitude towards the House. The series ended with a resolution that a copy should be transmitted to the President. The proceeding was a sort of impeachment, framed with the purpose not of bringing Hamilton to trial but of forcing him out of the Cabinet. The charges against him were purely technical and were actuated by malevolence. Hamilton, though not allowed to come into the House to defend himself, nevertheless participated in the debate indirectly by writing the speech delivered by William Smith and credited to him in the Annals of Congress. It was so generally felt in Congress that the resolutions were founded on nothing more substantial than spite that Giles could not hold his forces together, and p172as the debate proceeded the number of his adherents dwindled. The House began voting at a night session on March 1st. After the third resolution had been defeated by a vote of 40 to 12, an attempt was made to withdraw the others, but such action was refused, and one by one the remaining resolutions were defeated by increasing numbers until only seven voted with Giles at the last, among them James Madison. It was a signal triumph for Hamilton. But his enemies were not disposed to accept the decision as final, and Jefferson thought it might be revised at the next session.

It was not until the Second Congress that the old factions finally disappeared and the formation of national parties began. The issue over the adoption of the Constitution had produced Federalists and Anti-Federalists, but with its adoption Anti-Federalism as such became a thing of the past. Opposition to the Government had to betake itself to the political platform provided by the successful introduction of the new system of government, and was obliged to distinguish itself from official Federalism by attacking not the Constitution but the way in which the Constitution was being construed and applied. The suspicion, jealousy, p173and dislike with which the new government was regarded, in many quarters were reflected from the beginning in the behavior of Congress. There was from the first a disposition to find fault and to antagonize, and as time went on this disposition was aggravated by the great scope allowed to misunderstanding and calumny from the lack of direct contact between Congress and the Administration. In founding a new party, Jefferson only organized forces that were demanding leadership. He consolidated the existing opposition, and gave it the name "Republican Party," implying that its purpose was to resist the rise of monarchy and the growth of royal prerogative in the system of government which was introduced by the adoption of the Constitution. It is clear enough now that the implication was mere calumny; the notion that Washington was either aiming at monarchy or was conniving at it through ignorance was a grotesque travesty of the shameful situation that actually existed; but fictions, pretenses, slanders, and calumnies that would never have been allowed utterance if the Administration and Congress had stood face to face now had opportunity to spread and infect public opinion. Hence the tone of extreme rage that dishonors the political contention p174of the period and the malice that stains the correspondence of the faction chiefs.

Although a distinct party opposition appeared and assumed a name during the Second Congress, it disavowed as yet any opposition to Washington and represented its actual attempts to thwart the measures of the Administration as efforts to counteract Washington's evil advisers. The old constitutional tradition that the king can do no wrong, which still lingered in American politics, tended to an analogous elevation of the presidential office above the field of party strife, while leaving the President's Cabinet advisers fully exposed to it, just as in the case of the ministers of the Crown in England. Allowance must be made for the effect of this tradition when judgment is passed on the political activities of the period. Considered with regard to present standards of political behavior, the course of Jefferson in fomenting opposition to the Administration of which he was a part wears the appearance of despicable intrigue. There was nothing mean or low about it, however, in the opinion of himself and his friends, and even his enemies would have allowed it to be within the rules of the game. Jefferson did his best to defeat in Congress measures adopted by Washington p175on the advice of Hamilton, and he also did his best to undermine Washington's confidence in Hamilton. In his personal dealings with Washington, Jefferson had every advantage, for he had Washington's ear and could, more readily than Hamilton, direct the currents of unconscious influence that produce the will to believe. But Jefferson's animosity kept tempting him to overplay his hand in a way that was fatal in the face of an antagonist so keen and so dexterous as Hamilton.

In a letter of May 23, 1792, Jefferson presented to Washington an elaborate indictment of Hamilton's policy as a justification of his own behavior in organizing an opposition party in Congress. He charged Hamilton with subverting the character of the Government by his financial measures, the logical consequence of which would be "a change from the present republican form of government to that of a monarchy." Hence the need for organizing "the Republican party who wish to preserve the government in its present form." Washington thought over the matter, and — according to Jefferson — reopened the subject in a personal interview on July 10. Being now fully apprised of Jefferson's case, Washington himself prepared a p176brief of it, divided into numbered sections, and applied to Hamilton for a statement of his ideas upon the "enumerated discontents," framed so "that those ideas may be applied to the correspondent numbers." The proceeding is a fine instance of the care which Washington exercised in forming his opinions. Of course, as soon as charges of corruption and misdemeanor were reduced to exact statement the matter was put just where Hamilton wanted to get it, and in the grasp of his powerful hands its trashy character was promptly displayed. It is needless to go into details, now that public loans, the funding of floating indebtedness in excess of current income, and the maintenance of a national banking system to supply machinery of credit, are such well recognized functions that the wonder is how any statesman could have ever thought otherwise. Jefferson's arguments, when read with the prepossessions of the present day, are so apt to leave an impression of absurdity that they constitute a troublesome episode for his biographers.

Jefferson's maneuvering utterly failed to injure Hamilton in Washington's esteem, but it did have the effect of so thoroughly disgusting Washington with public life that at one time he was determined p177to refuse a reëlection, and even went so far as to ask Madison to prepare a valedictory address for him. He consented to serve another term most reluctantly, and not until he had been besought to do so by the leaders on both sides. Jefferson was as urgent as was Hamilton. While Washington was still wavering, he received a strong letter from Edmund Randolph that doubtless touched his soldierly pride. The letter closed with this sharp argument:

"You suffered yourself to yield when the voice of your country summoned you to the Administration. Should a civil war arise, you cannot stay at home. And how much easier will it be to disperse the factions, which are rushing to this catastrophe, than to subdue them after they shall appear in arms? It is the fixed opinion of the world, that you surrender nothing incomplete."

An appeal of this character was the most effective that could possibly be addressed to Washington, but in consenting he grumbled over the hardship of having to keep in active service at his time of life after already having served for so long a time. He complained that his hearing was getting bad and that "perhaps his other faculties might fall off and he not be sensible of it."

p178 Acquiescence in Washington's candidacy made it practically impossible for the Republican party to manifest its true strength. The compliment of Republican support was awarded to Governor Clinton of New York, who together with Washington received all the electoral votes of Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Georgia. A stray electoral vote from Pennsylvania brought Clinton's total up to 50, whereas John Adams received 77 votes which re-elected him as vice-president. Jefferson received only four electoral votes, all from Kentucky, but his poor showing in this election was wholly due to the intricacy of the electoral system, and his party meanwhile developed so much strength that when the Third Congress met on December 2, 1793, the Republicans were strong enough to elect the speaker.

Undeterred by this circumstance, Hamilton forced the fighting. The Jeffersonians had been excusing the defeat they had received in attacking Hamilton in the previous Congress on the ground that the House had acted without allowing sufficient time for due examination of the evidence. This plea supplied to Hamilton an occasion for prompt action. Exactly two weeks after the meeting of Congress he addressed a letter to the p179Speaker, in which he declared: "Unwilling to leave the matter on such a footing, I have concluded to request of the House of Representatives, as I now do, that a new inquiry may be, without delay, instituted in some mode, most effectual for an accurate and thorough investigation; and I will add, that the more comprehensive it is, the more agreeable it will be to me."

Giles promptly took up the challenge, and moved the appointment of a committee to examine the state of the Treasury Department in all its particulars. Pending action by the House, a new complication was introduced, which, though meant as a blow at Hamilton, resulted in a signal triumph for him. His enemies got hold of a discharged clerk of the Treasury Department by means of whom they now tried to counteract the effect of Hamilton's challenge. Two days after Hamilton's letter to the Speaker, a memorial from Andrew G. Fraunces was laid before the House making charges which amounted to this: that there was a combination between Hamilton and other officers of the Treasury Department to evade payment of warrants so that they could be bought up for speculative purposes. Hamilton's request for an investigation was allowed to lie on the table, but p180the memorial from Fraunces was referred to a select committee of which Giles was a member. This circumstance turned out to be much to Hamilton's advantage. Giles was an erect, bold, manly foe; he could not stomach the sort of testimony upon which depended the charges against Hamilton's personal integrity, and he concurred in a report on Hamilton finding that the evidence was "fully sufficient to justify his conduct; and that in the whole course of this transaction the Secretary and other officers of the Treasury have acted a meritorious part towards the public."

Giles, while exonerating Hamilton of the charge of dishonesty, did not desist from pressing his motion for further investigation of the Treasury Department. But he admitted that imputations upon the Secretary's integrity had been quite removed, and he now urged that "the primary object of the resolution is to ascertain the boundaries of discretion and authority between the Legislature and the Treasury Department." In thus shifting his ground he presented a new issue in which the House — and indeed Giles's own party associates — took little interest. The fact was that the attack on Hamilton had failed, that the purpose of showing him to be unworthy of p181Washington's confidence had been abandoned as impracticable, and that all that remained was a proposal that the House should again engage in a laborious investigation of the desirability of attempting a new delimitation of the functions of the Treasury Department and of Congress. But this, of course, did not concern Hamilton. He had acted under existing laws and with responsibilities which were defined by them. If Congress saw fit to make new laws, the consequences would fall upon his successor in office, not upon him since he was about to retire. If Congress made fetters for the Secretary, it might even be that some member of Giles's own party would have to wear them. Thus, however Giles's latest proposal might be viewed, it was not attractive. Moreover, it was presented at a time when the House had much more urgent matters to consider. The country was wild with excitement over the retaliating orders and decrees of Great Britain and France, which subjected American interests to injury from both sides. Giles and Page appear to have been the only speakers on the resolution when it was taken up for consideration on February 24, 1794, and both disclaimed any intention of reflecting upon Hamilton. The resolution received p182decent interment by reference to a committee, with no one objecting. The practical conclusion of the matter was that Hamilton had beaten his enemies once more and beaten them thoroughly.

Before resigning his office, Hamilton added still another great achievement to his record of illustrious service in establishing public authority. The violent agitation against the excise act promoted by the Jeffersonians naturally tended to forcible resistance. One of the counts of Jefferson's indictment of Hamilton's policy which had been presented to Washington was that the excise law was "of odious character . . . committing the authority of the Government in parts where resistance is most probable and coercion least practicable." The parts thus referred to were the mountains of western Pennsylvania. The popular discontent which arose there from the imposition of taxes upon their principal staple — distilled spirits — naturally coalesced with the agitation carried on against Washington's neutrality policy. At a meeting of delegates from the election districts of Allegheny county held at Pittsburgh, resolutions were adopted attributing the policy of the Government "to the pernicious influence of stockholders." This was an echo of p183Jefferson's views. But the resolutions went on to declare: "Our minds feel this with so much indignancy, that we are almost ready to wish for a state of revolution and the guillotine of France, for a short space, in order to inflict punishment on the miscreants that enervate and disgrace our Government." This was an echo of the talk in the political clubs that had been formed throughout the country. The original model was apparently the Jacobin club of Paris. The Philadelphia club with which the movement started, soon after Genet's arrival,a adopted the Jacobin style of utterance. It declared its object to be the preservation of a freedom whose existence was menaced by a "European confederacy transcendent in power and unparalleled in iniquity," and also by "the pride of wealth and arrogance of power" displayed in the United States. Writing to Governor Lee of Virginia, Washington said that he considered "this insurrection as the first formidable fruit of the Democratic Societies."

Hamilton moved warily, doing whatever lay in his power to smooth the practical working of the system in the hope of "attaining the object of the laws by means short of force." But such was the inflamed state of feeling in western Pennsylvania p184that no course was acceptable short of abandonment by the Government of efforts to enforce the internal revenue laws. During 1793, there were several outrageous attacks on agents of the Government, and the execution of warrants for the arrest of rioters was refused by local authority. People who showed a disposition to side with the Government had their barns burned. A revenue inspector was tarred and feathered, and was run out of the district. The patience with which the Government endured insults to its authority encouraged the mob spirit. On July 16, 1794, the house of Inspector Neville was attacked by a mob, and, when he appealed to the local authorities for protection, he was notified that there was such a general combination of the people that the laws could not be executed. Neville, a revolutionary veteran of tried valor, was able to obtain the help of an officer and eleven soldiers from Fort Pitt, but the mob was too numerous and too well-armed to be withstood by so weak a force. After a skirmish in which the mob fired the buildings and the place became untenable, the troops had to surrender. Soon after this affair, a convention of delegates from the four western counties of Pennsylvania was called to meet on August 14 to concert p185measures for united action. Organized insurrection had, in fact, begun.

"The Government," said Washington, "could no longer remain a passive spectator of the contempt with which the laws were treated." But when he called for Cabinet opinions, the old variance at once showed itself. Randolph thought that calm consideration of the situation "banishes every idea of calling the militia into immediate action." He pointed out that the disaffected region had more than fifteen thousand white males above the age of sixteen, and that sympathy with the insurgents was active in "several counties in Virginia having a strong militia." There was also the risk that the insurgents might seek British aid, in which case a severance of the Union might result. Randolph also enlarged upon the expense that would attend military operations and questioned whether the funds could be obtained. He advised a proclamation and the appointment of commissioners to treat with the insurgents. Should such means fail, and should it appear that the judiciary authority was withstood, then at last military force might be employed.

Hamilton held that "a competent force of militia should be called forth and employed to suppress p186the insurrection, and support the civil authority." It appeared to him that "the very existence of the Government demands this course." He urged that the force employed ought "to be an imposing one, such, if practicable, as will deter from opposition, save the effusion of the blood of the citizens, and serve the object to be accomplished." He proposed a force of twelve thousand men, of whom three thousand were to be cavalry, and he advised that, in addition to the Pennsylvania militia, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia should each contribute a quota.

All the members of the Cabinet except Randolph concurred in Hamilton's opinion. The practical execution of the measures was entrusted to Hamilton, who acted with great sagacity. Some appearance of timidity and inertia in Pennsylvania state authority was indirectly but effectually counteracted by measures which showed that the military expedition would move even if Pennsylvania held back. Although some troops were to gather at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, others were to meet at Cumberland Fort, Virginia. The business was so shrewdly managed that Pennsylvania state authority fell obediently into line, and the insurgents were so cowed by the determined action of the Government p187that they submitted without a struggle. Washington thought that this event would react upon the clubs and "effectuate their annihilation sooner than it might otherwise have happened." A general collapse among them certainly followed, and they disappeared from the political scene.

It is in the nature of precaution that the more successful it is the less necessary it appears to have been, and thus the complete success of Hamilton's management furnished his enemies with a new argument against him of which they afterwards made great use. The costly military expedition that had no fighting to do was continually held up to public ridicule. That the expense was trifling in comparison with the objects achieved must deeply impress any one who examines the records of the times. A mistake might have been fatal to the existence of the Government. It has become so powerful and massive since that time, that we can hardly realize what a rickety structure it then was, and how readily, in less capable hands, it might have collapsed.

Randolph, then Secretary of State, seems to have been in a panic. Fauchet, the French minister at that time, reported to his government that Randolph called upon him and with a grief-stricken p188countenance declared, "It is all over; a civil war is about to ravage our unhappy country." He represented to Fauchet that there were four men whose talents, influence, and energy might save it. "But debtors of English merchants, they will be deprived of their liberty if they take the smallest step." He wanted to know whether Fauchet could lend "funds sufficient to shelter them from English persecution." Fauchet's letter was captured by the British and made public. Randolph's explanations did not clear up the obscurity that surrounds the affair. His version was that the four men were flour merchants who were being pressed by their creditors "and that the money was wanted only for the purpose of paying them what was actually due to them in virtue of existing contracts." Even on his own showing it was a shady transaction, and he retired from Washington's Cabinet under a cloud.

Washington always had difficulty about the composition of his Cabinet. A capable man had been found to succeed Randolph as Attorney-General in the person of William Bradford, an able Pennsylvania lawyer, but he died in 1795, and was succeeded by Charles Lee of Virginia. When p189Knox resigned in 1794, the vacancy was filled by transferring to the War Department Timothy Pickering of Massachusetts, who had previously served as Postmaster-General. When Hamilton retired, January, 1795, he was succeeded by Oliver Wolcott of Connecticut, who had been Comptroller of the Treasury. After Randolph had been discredited by the Fauchet letter, the office of Secretary of State went a‑begging. It was offered to William Paterson of New Jersey, to Thomas Johnson of Maryland, to Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina, but all these men declined. Washington got word that Patrick Henry, the old antagonist of the Constitution, was showing Federalist leanings in opposition to Jefferson and Madison, and Henry was then tendered the appointment, but he too declined. Others were approached but all refused, and meanwhile Pickering, though Secretary of War, also attended to the work of the State Department. The matter was finally settled by permanently attaching Pickering to the State Department, while the vacancy thus created at the head of the War Department was filled by James McHenry, an appointment which Washington himself described as "Hobson's choice."

p190 Hamilton, although out of the Cabinet, still remained a trusted adviser, and he rendered splendid service at a dangerous crisis. In spite of the fact that the Jay treaty had been ratified by the Senate in June, 1795, it was an issue in the Fall elections that year. Jefferson held that the treaty was an "execrable thing," an "infamous act, which is really nothing more than a treaty of alliance between England and the Anglo-men of this country against the Legislature and the people of the United States." Giles, who had been in close consultation with Jefferson, moved with characteristic energy to translate Jefferson's views into congressional action.

The Fourth Congress met on December 7, 1795, and although a Federalist, Jonathan Dayton of New Jersey was elected Speaker, the Republicans were strong enough to tone down the reply to the President's address by substituting for an expression of "undiminished confidence" an acknowledgment of "zealous and faithful services," which expressed "approval of his course." On March 24, 1796, the House by a vote of 62 to 37 adopted a resolution calling upon the President to lay before it his instructions to Jay, "together with the correspondence and the other documents relative to p191said treaty." Advised by Hamilton and sustained by his whole Cabinet, Washington replied on March 30, by declining to comply because concurrence of the House was not necessary to give validity to the treaty, and "because of the necessity of maintaining the boundaries fixed by the Constitution between the different departments." The House retorted by a resolution declaring its right to judge the merits of the case when application was made for an appropriation to give effect to a treaty. Debate on this issue, which is still an open one in our constitutional system, began on April 14 and continued for sixteen days. Madison opposed the execution of the treaty, but the principal speech was made by Giles, whose argument covers twenty-eight columns in the Annals. As the struggle proceeded, the Jeffersonians lost ground. It became evident that weighty elements of public opinion were veering around to the support of the treaty as the best arrangement attainable in the circumstances. The balance of strength became so close that the scales were probably turned by a speech of wonderful power and eloquence delivered by Fisher Ames. A decision was reached on April 30, the test question being on declaring the treaty "highly objectionable." p192Forty-eight votes were cast on each side and the Speaker gave his decision for the negative. In the end, the House stood 51 to 48 in favor of carrying the treaty into effect. Only four votes for the treaty came from the section south of Mason and Dixon's line.

During the agitation over the Jay treaty the rage of party spirit turned full against Washington himself. He was blackguarded and abused in every possible way. He was accused of having shown incapacity while General and of having embezzled public funds while President. He was nicknamed "the Step-Father of his country." The imputation on his honor stung so keenly that he declared "he would rather be in his grave than in the Presidency," and in private correspondence he complained that he had been assailed "in terms so exaggerated and indecent as could scarcely be applied to a Nero, a notorious defaulter, or even to a common pickpocket." The only rejoinder which his dignity permitted him to make is that contained in his Farewell Address, dated September 17, 1796, in which he made a modest estimate of his services and made a last affectionate appeal to the people whom he had so faithfully served.

p193 The Farewell Address was not a communication to Congress. It was issued in view of the approaching presidential election, to give public notice that he declined "being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made." The usual address to Congress was delivered by Washington on December 7, 1796, shortly after the opening of the second session of the Fourth Congress. The occasion was connected in the public mind with his recent valedictory, and Congress was ready to vote a reply of particularly cordial tenor. Giles stood to his guns to the last, speaking and voting against complimentary resolutions. "He hoped gentlemen would compliment the President privately, as individuals; at the same time, he hoped such adulation would never pervade the House." He held that "the Administration has been neither wise nor firm," and he acknowledged that he was "one of those who do not think so much of the President as some others do." On this issue Madison forsook him, and Giles was voted down, 67 to 12. Among the eleven who stood by Giles was a new member who made his first appearance that session — Andrew Jackson of Tennessee. In later years, when Giles's opinions had been modified by experience and reflection, p194he regretted his attitude towards Washington. It is due to Giles to say that he did not stab in the dark. He had qualities of character that under better constitutional arrangements would have invigorated the functions of the House as an organ of control, but at that time, with the separation that had been introduced between the House and the Administration, his energy was mischievous and his intrepidity was a misfortune to himself and to his party.

Washington's term dragged to its close like so much slow torture. Others might resign, but he had to stand at his post until the end, and it was a happy day for him when he got his discharge. His elation was so manifest that it was noticed by John Adams. Writing to his wife about the ceremony the day after the inauguration, Adams remarked that Washington "seemed to me to enjoy a triumph over me. Methought I heard him say, 'Ay! I am fairly out, and you fairly in! See which of us will be the happiest.' "


Thayer's Note:

a Destabilizing the United States, was certainly within the spirit, and probably within the letter, of the French ambassador's orders from his government. See Chapter 6 and the further references there.


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