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LETTERS OP B. G. HAEPEE, 1799, 81

In that letter I mentioned that a vote had passed for adding to
our present navy six ships of the line of 74 guns each, and six sloops
of war of 18 guns each. This vote afterwards passed into a law,
and the building of the ships will speedily commence. The measure
was founded on a conviction that the commerce of this country, which
is the great source of our revenue, and essential to the encouragement
and prosperity of our agriculture, cannot exist without a maritime
protection. This conviction is not only supported by general reason-
ing, and the experience of all nations, but is fully confirmed by the
experiment which we have made; for before we began to arm, our
commerce was in a state of depression which indicated approaching
ruin ; at present it is flourishing and prosperous in a very high degree.
The saving on insurance alone is estimated, on fair principles of
calculation, at nine millions of dollars per annum; independently
of the decrease of captures, which have been comparatively few since
we began to defend our vessels, and suffer them to defend themselves.
The sum expended, before the beginning of this year, towards equip-
ping and preparing for sea the naval armament heretofore provided
for, and supporting such part of it as was sent to sea in the course
of the last year, amounted to about 3,350,000 dollars. For com-
pleating that armament one million more is appropriated. For the
support of the whole establishment, during the present year, includ-
ing the marines, the revenue cutters, and the six additional sloops of
war provided for by the late act, the appropriation is something less
than 2,350,000 dollars. The expence of building and equipping those
six sloops of war, and the six seventy-fours, will be not quite 2,350,000
dollars. These sums, added together, make an aggregate of 9,050,000
dollars. Whence it appears, that the saving made by our defensive
measures in the article of insurance alone, without calculating the
diminution of captures, the benefits resulting from the encreased
spirit and activity of commerce, and the consequent rise in the price
of produce, is sufficient, in one year, to pay for the whole naval arma-
ment which has produced this effect, to support it for a year, to
build six ships of the line, and to build and support six 18 gun sloops.
When this whole navy is complete, the annual expence of maintaining
it, in time of war,, will be about 3,650,000 dollars. In peace, the ships
will be laid up and will cost very little. So that if we suppose the
protection to be afforded by it, in its perfect state, to be only as
efficacious as that now derived from the part of it which is actually
in service, this protection will pay for the expence, and leave a bal-
ance of five millions annually to the nation. In addition to this, we
shall be respected by foreign nations ; and our citizens, finding them-
selves protected in their lawful pursuits by the government of their
country, will prosecute their enterprises with vigour and spirit:
62513°— VOL 2—15 6



82 AMEEICAN HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION.

whence must naturally result a high degree of public and private
prosperity.

It has been sometimes said that this mode of calculation is unfair ;
because the saving in insurance, and captures, is a saving to the
merchants alone ; whereas the expence of a fleet is to be borne by the
nation at large. But it is not true that the saving is to the merchants
alone. To say that it is to the consumers alone, would be much nearer
the truth. The merchant will have his profits on his goods, whether
they come high or low to him; and this profit, together with the
original price, the consumer must pay. If insurance rise from seven
per cent to fifteen per cent, the additional eight per cent, is laid on
the price of the goods, and they come eight per cent higher to the con-
sumer. If it falls from fifteen to seven per cent, the goods come eight
per cent, cheaper. The saving, therefore, like the loss from a rise,
though first felt by the merchant, goes finally to the consumers ; that
is to the nation at large. If the nation, therefore, by expending four
millions annually in the support of a navy, can prevent insurance
from rising to 15 per cent, from seven, or can lower it from 15 to
seven, it prevents itself from being taxed to the amount of nine
millions instead of four, and saves five millions by the bargain.

Wlien we reflect, moreover, on the advantages of a navy, we are not
to consider merely the expence, but the situation in which we should
be without the navy. No farmer hesitates, on account of the expense
or trouble, to make a fence round his fields. He considers that
without a fence, his whole crop must be lost, his plantation ruined,
and with it his credit and his family.

In order to facilitate these naval preparations, laws have passed to
authorize the building of docks, and the procuring of ship timber.
Fifty thousand dollars are appropriated for the first object, and two
hundred thousand for the second. Towards building the six seventy-
fours, and the additional sloops of war, one million is appropriated ;
which is supposed to be as much as can be expended on them in the
course of this year.

In mj last I stated, that of the naval force formerly provided for,
there had been then equipt and sent to sea, two frigates of 44 guns,
and one of 36; three sloops of 18, three of 20, and three of 24 gims
each; eight cutters, and three gallies. No others have since gone to
sea, though several are nearly ready. Those in service are, at present,
in different parts of the West Indies; where they are employed in
convoying our merchant vessels, and keeping the French privateers
in port. One of them, the Constellation, of 36 guns and 307 men,
lately performed a very handsome exploit, which cannot fail to have
a very happy effect upon the character and future conduct of our
navy. She came up with the French frigate the Insurgente, a very



LETTERS OF R. G. HARPER, 1799. 83

fine vessel of 40 guns and 409 men, which was cruising for American
ships, and had lately captured a small armed vessel of the United
States. This ship of such superior force she took, after an engage-
ment of an hour and a quarter, in which the French had 29 men killed,
and 46 wounded ; and the Americans one killed and three w^ounded.^

Since this affair, another of our frigates, the United States^ has
sunk a French privateer in the West Indies, which had taken many
of our merchant vessels ; but the crew was saved. It is reported, and
I believe with truth, that the same frigate has lately taken another
privateer, and retaken a British merchant ship which she had cap-
tured.^ This is returning the favor which the British have so often
done us ; for they have retaken and released very many of our ships.

In my last I mentioned, that the number of private ships armed
in the United States, since permission was given for that purpose,
was computed at 850, carrying in the whole 2625 guns. By authentic
returns it since appears, that the number is 365, carrying 2723 guns,
and 6845 men. This private armament is still going on with great
vigour ; and instances of its efficiency in protecting trade, daily occur.

Amidst these maritime exertions, preparations by land have not
been neglected ; but as the danger in that quarter is less threatening,
the greatest and most expensive part of those preparations is left
dependant on circumstances. The army voted at the former session
will be raised, unless the state of things should materially change for
the better; and arrangements are made for that purpose: but the
large additions which Congress has provided for in the last session,
are not to take place, unless " in case war should break out between
the United States and a foreign European power; or in case imminent
danger of invasion of their territory by any such power, shall, in the
opinion of the President, be discovered to exist." In either of those
cases, he is authorised to raise twenty-four additional regiments of
infantry, one regiment and one battalion of riflemen, a battalion of
artillery, and three regiments of cavalry; or such part of the whole
force as he shall judge necessary. The present army is also to be
increased, in that case, to a war establishment ; which almost doubles
the number of privates in each regiment. The whole regular force,
therefore, that maj'' be raised in case of war amounts to about fifty
thousand men, exclusive of volunteers and militia.

That this additional force may speedily be raised, at any moment
when it is wanted, the President is further authorised to proceed
immediately to the appointment of all the officers ; a business which, in
so extensive a country, from every part of which it is proper to
make selections, has been found, from experience, to be attended with

> Feb. 9, 1799, Capt. Thomas Tiuxtun. Maclay, " Hist, of the Navy ", I, 177.
*The reference is apparently to the capture of the Tartufe, the Bonaparte, and the
Cicero, British, Feb. 26, 1799.



84 AMERICAN HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION.

much difficulty and delay. But the officers being once appointed
and properly organized, the enlistments may commence at any
moment, when occasion shall require the force to be actually raised.
The officers, however, are not to receive pay till called into actual serv-
ice : and the authority to raise this eventual army is to expire at the
end of the next session of Congress. The number of volunteers
which the President may accept, pursuant to former acts, is limited
to about seventy-six thousand, who are to be divided among the
states in proportion to their respective population. The act for
making a draft of militia to be held in readiness, expired at the end
of the session and was not renewed ; it being considered that this draft
was attended with some trouble and expense to the militia, and did
not, in fact, put them in a better state for service; for which reason
it was thought best to leave the matter to the President: who is
empowered by the constitution and the laws to call out such portions
of the militia, in case of need, as circimistances may render necessary.

It was objected by some, that since there is now less danger of inva-
sion than heretofore, and the French government had exhibited some
appearances of a disposition to settle its differences with us in an
amicable manner, this eventual authority to raise a large army was
unnecessary and improper: but it was answered, and in my opinion
with perfect truth and good sense, that if there was, in fact, no
danger of invasion, the measure could do no harm, since in that case
no troops could be raised ; that the best method of preventing danger,
was to be prepared in time and always on our guard; that if the
French were sincerely desirous of a reasonable accommodation, this
precautionary measure could not obstruct it; and that if they were
not sincerely desirous, but meant only to amuse us, to put us off our
guard and to gain time, the best method of counteracting their
schemes and inspiring them with a sincere disposition for peace
and justice, would be to go on with our preparations, provide for the
worst, and let them see that we were not to be over-reached by their
" diplomatic skill " now, any more than we were intimidated by their
threats last year. In short, that the best way to gain peace, is to be
prepared for war.

In the mean time, the measures agreed to last year, for providing
arms and military stores, and fortifying the ports and harbours, are
pressed into execution with vigour; and considerable progress is
already made.

These are all the additions which have been made to the measures
of defence formerly adopted.

The act for suspending all commercial intercourse with France
and her dominions, has been continued in force for one year longer ;
but the President is authorised to restore the commercial intercourse



LETTEES OP R. G. HARPEE^ 1T99. 85

immediately, with such particular parts of those dominions as he
may judge proper. This authority was given on account of a dis-
position, manifested by the persons in authority in some of the
French Islands, to desist from privateering on our vessels; provided
the trade of the United States, of which they are in most pressing
reed, since they depend on it for their supplies of provisions, should
be restored to them. As the suspension of commercial intercourse
was resorted to by congress, as a mean of bringing these people to
a sense of propriety, and protecting our trade from their depreda-
tions, there could be no reason to continue it after these objects
should be attained. An arrangement for these purposes, it is sup-
posed, will be made with some of the French Islands, especially St.
Domingo.

The French government having lately passed an edict, by which all
neutral sailors found on board of British ships of war or merchant-
men, though carried there hy force^ are rendered liable to execution
as pirates^ Congress, justly considering the measure as levelled
chiefly at us, since it is our sailors who on account of similarity of
language and other circumstances are most frequently found in
British ships, passed a law authorizing the President, in case the
edict should be executed on any of our sailors previously impressed
on board of British ships of war, to retaliate on any French pris-
oners who may be in our power.^ The British had before declared
that they would retaliate if the edict should be executed in any case
whatever. This threat is said to have produced its suspension,
though not its repeal. For the sake of humanity we hope that the
French will refrain from its execution.

While Congress was employed on these measures relating to our
external affairs, it did not neglect the internal regulations which the
public good required. An act was passed for consolidating into
one act, and amending, all the various acts respecting the collection
of duties on imports and tonnage." This was a work of much
labour and much utility. Considerable progress was made in a simi-
lar digest of the laws respecting duties on stills and domestic dis-
tilled spirits; which is much wanted, and will probably be finished
next session. The acts respecting stamp duties were revised and
amended.^ A general revision and amendment of the post-office
system took place.* The act for the valuation of lands and dwell-
ing houses was revised, and that part of it which required a return
of the number and dimensions of windows was repealed; as being

1 The decree of Oct. 29, 1798, see "Annals ", 5 Cong., 3 sess., 2796 ; for the retaliatory
measure, which passed the House Mar. 2, see ibid., 3052, 3955 ; approved, Mar. 3 ;
c 45.

» Approved Mar. 2, 1799 ; c. 22.

" Approved Feb. 28 ; c. 17.

* Approved Mar. 2 ; c. 18.



86 AMERICAN HISTOEICAL ASSOCIATION.

more troublesome and disagreeable to individuals, than useful for
promoting the objects of the act.^ The regulations for the preser-
vation of health, and the prevention of contagious diseases, were ex-
tended and enforced.^ Acts were passed for the government of the
navy and the better organization of the army.^ And a general bank-
rupt act was digested considered and matured ; which, though rejected
by a small majority, is now in such a state as to be brought forward
at nest session with good prospects of success.*

An attempt was made to repeal the alien and sedition acts ; founded
chiefly on their supposed unconstitutionality, and supported by peti-
tions from various parts of the country. But as Congress, after the
maturest examination, found no reason to doubt about their consti-
tutional power to pass those acts, and the particular circumstances
which induced them to exercise that power have by no means ceased,
it was thought inexpedient to consent to the repeal, and the motion
was rejected.^ The reasons whereon this rejection was founded, are
detailed and enforced in a report of a select committee which was
published, and of which I forwarded some copies to the district.^
The acts, if not renewed, will expire of themselves in one year from
this time. Their renewal will depend on the state of things at next
session. The alien act, I believe, it will be proper to renew, unless
circumstances should greatly alter; for there ought always, in times
of danger, to exist a power of apprehending mischievous or sus-
pected aliens, and of sending them out of the country: more espe-
cially when vv'e have to deal with an enemy which works more by
intrigues than by open force. But the sedition act is less necessary ;
for there is no doubt that everything which it makes penal may be
punished, with much more severity, by the common law of the land ;
and its only use was to declare that law, to render it more generally
known, and to restrict it in some particulars where it was thought to
go too far. By the common law the courts could fine and imprison,
and to any extent, and for libels and persons indicted for such
offences could not plead the truth of the matter in their defence.
By the act, the truth of the matter may be pleaded; and the power
of fine and imprisonment is restricted to two years and two thousand
dollars. If it should become necessary, therefore, to restore the
common law, in this respect, to its ancient r'gour, the act must be
suffered to expire.

An increase was made in the salaries of certain officers employed
in the executive departments, and by their duties obliged to reside

1 Approved Feb. 28 ; c. 20. For Harper's committee report on amendments to the
system of valuation, see "Am. St. P., Fiaance ", I, 601-602.

2 Approved Feb. 25; c. 12.

3 Mar. 2 and 3 ; cc. 24, 48.

* The act was rejected Jan. 15. "Annals ", 5 Cong., 3 sess., 2676-2677.
"Feb. 25. Ibid., 2985-3016.
See p. 77, note 1.



LETTERS OF R. G. HARPER/ 1*199. 87

constantly in this city.^ Those salaries were, for the most part,
fixt nine years ago, when every article of life was nearly one-half
cheaper, in the great towns, than at present. Consequently, they had
become inadequate, as appeared from the most undoubted informa-
tion, to the support of the officers and their families; who were
obliged to live upon their own property while employed wholly in
the public service ; and, if not men of fortune, were reduced to great
difficulties. Hence, a great discouragement to good public servants,
a great temptation to those who have under their control vast sums
of public money, and a great difficulty in finding men properly
qualified, in respect of talents and character, for filling up the va-
cancies which from time to time occur. Congress, therefore, judged
it true economy to put these useful and necessary officers more at
their ease, by adding something to their salaries; and in my opinion
it judged wisely. But as the public has, at present, great occasion
for money, the encrease was small and confined solely to those officers
whose duties oblige them to reside constantly at the seat of govern-
ment. The whole amount of the different augmentations was no
more than eleven thousand five hundred dollars per annum; a most
inconsiderable sum when compared with the importance of the ob-
ject and the resources of the nation. The augmentation is for three
years only ; to be continued or not, at the end of that period, accord-
ing to circumstances.

I spoke, in my last, of the general prosperity of our trade; which
has recovered from its late depression and continues to flourish with
encreasing vigour. The revenue of the last year was greater than
it had been estimated at the beginning of the year; and exceeded
that of the former year, instead of falling below it; as, from the
depredations on our commerce, and its consequent stagnation, there
was reason to apprehend. The exports too have considerably en-
creased during the last year; in 1797, they were 51,294,710 dollars;
and in 1798, 61,327,411 ; in 1791, on the contrary, they amoimted to
no more than 18,399,202 — so that, in one year, they have encreased a
fifth, and more than trebled in eight years.

Our shipping also, notwithstanding the great number of vessels
which have been captured, has encreased very considerably. In 1794,
we owned 628,617 tons of shipping; in 1797 it had encreased to
831,900 tons; and at the commencement of 1798, we had 876,912 tons.
From 1790 to 1796, inclusive, the foreign shipping employed in our
trade, had decreased from 250,748 tons to 46,846 ; which decrease was
occasioned, and replaced, by the great increase of our own shipping.

For two years preceding 1798 our revenue, from commerce, en-
creased at the rate of a million annually, or one-sixth, without an
encrease of duties: last year it encreased very little, on account of

* Approved Mar. 2; c. 33.



88 AMERICAN HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION.

the unprotected state of our trade. From 7,355,688 dollars, its prod-
uct in 1797, it rose in 1798 to 7,405420 only ; and this small encrease
must be attributed in part though not wholly, to a small augmenta-
tion of duties which began to operate upon the revenue in the course
of last year. But as our trade has now revived, in consequence of the
protection afforded to it, we may reasonably expect that the revenue
will regain its former state of rapid encrease.

Our situation with France still remains as it was when I wrote
last. When the French government found that gen. Pinclmey and
gen. Marshall could not be inticed or frightened into terms disgrace-
ful to the country, that its schemes with respect to Mr. Gerry were
baffled by his recal, and that the American government and nation,
instead of crouching at its feet through weakness and division, as
so many other countries had done to their utter ruin, repelled its
attacks, despised its threats, and were preparing, with vigour and
system, to defend by arms the rights and honour of the country, it
all at once changed its tone, and professed a great willingness to
treat, our attempts at which it had so lately spurned; an anxious
desire to avert a quarrel, which before it sought by every possible
injury; and the most friendly sentiments towards a country which
it had plundered and insulted for years together. One of Mr. Tal-
leyrand's clerks^ was dispatched to Holland, under pretence of
acting as secretary to the French minister there, but in reality to
open an informal communication with our minister. He threw himself
in the way of our minister, and having entered into conversations
with him respecting the state of affairs between the two countries,
he wrote an account of those conversations to Mr. Talleyrand. Mr.
Talleyrand wrote him letters in reply, which he was allowed to shew
to the American minister. These letters, of which he even gave our
minister copies, were filled with professions of friendship for the
United States, of regret at the existing differences, and of willing-
ness and even anxiety to enter into negociations for their removal.
The copies which our minister received he transmitted to the Presi-
dent.2

Hypocrites very often, in their abundant cunning, over-reach them-
selves ; and so it happened to the French government in this instance.
We could be at no loss to discover the drift of all this sudden mild-
ness and apparent good nature, when we considered that it was accom-
panied by no substantial change of measures tov/ards us; but that, on
the contrary, the French continued in force all their laws against our
trade, took as many of our vessels as possible, and even in the midst



1 Louis Andrg Pichon, afterward French chargg d'affaires In the United States. In
reality, he was at this time secretary of legation in Holland. See William Vans Murray
to Adams, "Annual Report of the Am. Hist. Assn.", 1912, 462 ff.

s See p. 78, note 3.



LETTEES OF K. 'g. HARPER, 1799. 89

of all these fair pretences, passed the atrocious and bloody edict, for
hanging as pirates all our sailors who might be found in British
ships, though carried and kept there by force. But lest all this evi-
dence, joined to the numerous examples of cruel and studied perfidy
which France had displayed towards other nations, especially the
Swiss whom she destroyed by similar arts, should not be sufficient
to put us on our guard against her wiles, she took a step which served,
in the strongest manner, to manifest her intentions. This corre-
spondence with our minister in Holland,^ which was carried on with
the greatest apparent mystery, and transmitted to the President
with particular and unusual precautions, was nevertheless sent,
doubtless by Mr. Talleyrand's order, for his clerk would not of him-



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