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than formerly, to do justice to our demands, and to make a fair
settlement of the differences between us, remains yet to be tried. I
am inclined to think that it will be the case ; though the point is very
doubtful. One thing, however, is in my opinion perfectly certain;
namely that the change in their manners has been produced, alto-
gether, by our spirited conduct and measures of defence and resist-
ance : And that to a continuation of that conduct and those measures
we must look for a change in their system. If we persevere in the
same steps, they, I am persuaded, will do us justice and respect our
rights. If, on the contrary, we recede and fall back, they will press
on again with more violence than ever : for it is the nature of bullies
to impose on the timid and feeble, and to forbear striking those who
show a determination, to strike again.

Having alluded to the late change in the government of France,
which is of a very singular nature, I will give you some account of it.

General Buonaparte, finding that there was nothing to be got in
Egypt but hardships and gradual destruction, privately abandoned
his army, which he left to shift for itself, and very unexpectedly, to
the French government and nation at least, made his appearance in
France, It is not improbable, however, that he had been secretly
invited by some individuals, with a view to the objects which he
afterwards accomplished. Having travelled in triumph to Paris and
received the praises and congratulations of the French government,
which most probably felt much better disposed to punish him if it had
been able to do so, he proceeded to form a party of some members of
the Directory and the two Councils, and to gain over a number of offi-

^ See p. 94, note 1,
62513°— VOL 2—15 7


cers and troops who were in and about Paris. By the help of these
associates, he, one morning, seized and imprisoned the members of the
Directory Avho were not in the secret, and compelled them to resign.
The others did so of their own accord. He then went to the Council
of Ancients; from which he obtained a vote investing him with the
whole military command in Paris and the neighbourhood, and
adjourning the two Councils to a place some miles from the city.
The object of this measure was to put the Council of Five Hundred,
of which he was afraid, more completely in his power, by removing
them from Paris, the populace of which might have supported them.
Accordingly he attended with a militarj^ guard at the first meeting
of that Council; and after making a speech to them, the amount of
which was that they were a pack of fools and scoundrels, he gave the
word " CHARGE " to liis grenadiers, and drove out at the point of the
bayonet all those who were not of his party. The rest soon re-
assembled under his orders, and passed decrees whereby he, and a few
of his associates, were invested in fact with absolute power ; the two
branches of the Legislature were adjourned to a distant day; many
members were expelled, and a small number was selected from each
Coimcil to form a new constitution. It was not difficult to forsee,
that the constitution formed by them would be of a nature to please
general Buonaparte. Accordingly it soon made its appearance, and
constituted him chief Consul of the French Reyuhlw for ten years,
with a salary of one hundred thousand dollars, the absolute com-
mand of all the fleets and armies, the entire disposal of the public
treasury, the appointment and removal of all officers of every kind,
the whole executive authority, and the right of proposing all laws, to
a body which, in substance and truth though not in name, is chosen
by himself; which the people have not, even in name, a part in
choosing; and which must accept or reject such laws as he may choose
to offer to them, and none others, without the power even of propos-
ing an amendment. This is the substance of the thing ; though there
is some fringe and tinsel stuck on to catch the eyes of the vulgar : And
it is obvious that a despotism more complete never existed.

Such has been the issue of the famous French revolution; on the
ruins of which, after more than ten years of agitation, anarchy,
proscription, murder, pillage, and crimes of every name, kind, and
degree and eight years of the most cruel extensive and bloody wars,
civil or foreign and frequently both, we at length see a military
usurper seated, with chains in one hand, the dagger in the other, and
all law and right beneath his feet; invested with a power more
absolute in effect than any king of France ever enjoyed; which he
will be compelled by his situation and the state of things to exercise
with iron-handed rigour: and which he will retain as long as he can


retain his life, his understanding, and his courage. I might indeed
say his understanding and his courage ; for while he retains them his
life, I believe, will be in very little danger. When they fail him, and
they have sometimes failed people who were suddenly raised to so
great a height, he will be pushed from his seat by some new usurper,
who Avill occupy it in his stead.

This government, however, is still called the "French Republic";
and General Buonaparte still begins his letters with the words
" Liberty and Equality," and still talks, as gravely as Robespiere
himself, about the " sovereignty of the people." He is thus far in
the right, that France is as much a republic now as it ever was; for
there never existed in it any thing republican but the name, and that
still exists. There is also as much " Liberty and Equalit}^ " as there
has ever been, and probably much more; for the people instead of
being subject to the lawless and capricious despotism of a multitude
of persons, a vast majority of whom, including the most energetic,
active and influential, have generally been madmen or knaves, are
now subject to the despotism of one man of sense, who may find it
in his interest to govern well, and in his powder to govern with steadi-
ness. As for the " sovereignty of the people," they have at least as
much of it as heretofore; for it is notorious that the government
called at various times the '' republic," has been a series of forcible
or fraudulent usurpations, in the choice of Avhich the people has
never had a real effective voice, and very seldom even an apparent one.
We know, indeed, that it has been acknowledged by some of the
greatest admirers of the French revolution, and by one, in particular,
who resided for some years in France and proved himself a faithful
servant of the republic, " that the government, in that country Avas
every thing and the people nothing." For my own part, I confess
myself to be of opinion, that general Bounaparte's government is far
the best for France, that has existed there within the last ten years,
and that he deserves the thanks of his OAvn country, and of the world,
for its establishment: for I hold it to be an indisputable truth that
whoever, by any means, suppresses an anarchical democratical des-
potism, which is the only description that I can give of the late
French government, ought to be considered as a benefactor to man-

The lovers of true republicanism ought particularly to rejoice in
this event ; for such was the disgrace brought upon that kind of gov-
ernment by those who usurped the name and form of it in France,
that there was great danger of a lasting and uniA^ersal disgust being
created against it, among the rational and virtuous part of mankind.

Whether General Buonaparte will pursue the policy of his prede-
cessors towards foreign nations, or adopt a just and pacific system,


remains yet to be seen. He has talked much of peace, as each of them
also did at the commencement of their careers, for the purpose of
raising the hopes and securing the good wishes of the nation. Just
as a man pats the neck of his horse, till he can get fast hold of the
reins and well fixt in the saddle. Then come the whip and the spur.
As Buonaparte's authorit3\ however, is more likely to be permanent
than that of his predecessors, it is more probable that he may find it
in his power, and even in his inclination and interest, to make peace.
At present every thing in Europe wears the appearance of continued

In the course of the last campaign, the French were totally defeated
in Italy by the Austrians and Russians, and driven entirely out of
that country. They also experienced severe defeats in Germany and
Switzerland, in the early part of the campaign ; but towards the close
of it they regained their ground in Switzerland, where they were
victorious. In Germany they still continue unsuccessful. The Eng-
lish and Russians also attacked them in Holland, where the former
landed a considerable army, after capturing the whole Dutch fleet ; ^
but the French, after many sharp actions and some defeats, were
finally victorious; and compelled the English and Russian to aban-
don the country; and to release 8,000 French prisoners, for permis-
sion to do so without molestation.

Thus stand matters now. Both sides are preparing for another
campaign. Should it take place, the probability of success, as it
appears to me, is greatly against France.

With respect to our internal affairs and the proceedings of Con-
gresSj I shall defer any detail of them till near the close of the ses-
sion, when I shall write again and when it will be in my power to
give you a more complete vieAv of those subjects than at present. I
will, however, mention in the mean time, that a motion was made
some time ago to disband the newly raised army; which I opposed
for reasons that are explained in the enclosed speech on that sub-
ject." The motion was rejected; on the ground that we ought not
to diminish our means of defence in the moment of negociation, while
it was 3^et uncertain to what attacks we might be exposed. But as
it is a very desirable object to diminish the expences of government
as much as possible, consistently Avith a due regard to the public
safety and interest, an act was afterwards passed for suspending all
further inlistments for that army, till the further order of Congress.
By this means a million of dollars are saved in the expences of this

1 The Duke of York's army seized the Dutch fleet anchored at the Texel late in
August, 1799. After defeat by Brune at Bergen, the English and Russians evacuated
Holland in October. (Convention of Alkmaar.)

- Harper spoke on the disbanding of the army Jan. 10, 1800. "Annals ", 6 Cong.,
1 sess., 325-350. The bill to suspend further enlistments passed the House Jan. 24.
Ibid., 425.

LETTERS OF R. G. HARPER, 1800. 101

year. If the negociation should succeed, the whole army will be dis-
banded, of course; and if it should fail, Congress will be again in
session time enough to order the renew^al of the inlistments.

I must also mention that our gallant naval commander, Truxton,
has performed another very brilliant atchievement in the West-In-
dies. With the Constellation frigate, which carries but 36 guns and
three hundred and forty men, he engaged, some time ago, a French
ship of w^ar of 54 guns and five hundred men, which he totally dis-
abled, and would have taken, had not his own mast gone overboard
so as to prevent him from pursuing his antagonist, at the ver}^ mo-
ment when the latter ceased his fire and betook himself to llight.
There were fourteen men killed and twenty five wounded, on board
the Constellation^ and one hundred and fifty or sixty killed and
wounded, on board the Frenchman. To rew^ard this very gallant and
well conducted action, and to encourage a similar spirit in the navy
generally. Congress have requested the president to present Truxton
with a gold medal emblematical of the engagement.^ Adieu my
dear Sir; accept my best wishes, and be assured that I am very

Yours, etc.

Bayard to John Hodge Bayard.^

Apr. 27, 1800.
[See Mallery, Ancient Families of Bohemia Manor, " Papers of the
Delaware Historical Society ", VII, G8-70.]

Harper to his Constituents.^

Philadelphia, May 15th, 1800.

Yesterday, my dear sir, Congress adjourned, to meet on the third
Monday in November at the city of Washington, henceforth the seat
of the Federal Government. The public offices will probably be
removed thither early in next month.

Among the most important laws of the session thus terminated, is
the " Bankrupt Act "; * which has long been an object of attention in
Congress, but hitherto delayed hy the difficulty and extent of the
subject itself, or by the pressure of matters more immediately interest-

^ The engagement had taken place Feb. 1, 1800; the French frigate involved was
La Vciifjeancc. For the vote awarding the medal see "Annals ", fl Cong., 1 sess., 629-630.

2 John Hodge Bayard, Bas'ard's older brother (b. Jan. 11, 1762), who went to West-
ern Maryland and was apparently lost sight of by the family after that. Gen. .Tames
Grant Wilson in an article on Col. John Bayard in the " N. Y. Gen. Rec." (Apr., 1885)
says he died unmarried about 1820. Mallery, however, says (p. 08) that " he not only
married but left many descendants."

s This letter was printed in the Aurora of May 24, 1800, and an extract from it
appeared in the Charleston City Gazette, June 3, 1800.

* Act approved Apr. 4, 1800 ; c. 19.


ing. Its operation is confined to merchants and dealers, and will be
rarely felt except in the great commercial towns : for a person must
owe at least a thousand dollars before it can atfect him. Its object
is, in the first place, to support mercantile credit, by protecting the
rights of creditors against the fraud of dishonest, and the folly of
imprudent, debtors, who may waste or conceal their property while
the ordinary forms of law are going on against them : and secondly,
to encourage fair industry and prudent conduct, by enabling honest
debtors, reduced b}' misfortune, to give up their property, free them-
selves intirel}^ from their debts, and begin the world anew ; which no
man will ever have the courage to do, while a load of old debts is
hanging on him.

A system so new, so extensive, and operating on such a variety of
unforeseen cases, will, no doubt, be found very imperfect at first, and
in need of frequent revision and amendment according to the light
wdiich experience alone can afford. It may also be liable to abuse in
many instances: for what human institution may not be perverted.
But the example of other countries proves, that to a trading people a
bankrupt law is highly beneficial, if not absolutely necessary.

An attempt has also been made to revise the judiciary system of
the United States, w^hich is found to be very inconvenient in practice,
and by no means adequate to the proper administration of justice.
At present there is but one superior or circuit court of the United
States, held in each state, for the trial of civil actions, and the pun-
ishment of offences, throughout the whole state. The consequence is,
that people who are sued in the federal court, or prosecuted for
offences against the United States, are obliged, in many cases, espe-
cially in the large states, to attend with their Avitnesses at great dis-
tances from home, and with much expence and inconvenience. These
circumstances have a strong tendencj^ to bring the laws of the United
States into neglect and disrepute, by deterring people from prose-
cuting offenders against them. In order to remove these evils, and
render the administration of justice more effectual and less burthen-
some, it was proposed to increase the number of courts, by dividing
the larger states into two, three, or four districts, with a circuit court
in each.

The circuit courts are noAv held by the judges of the supreme court
of the United States, six in number ; Avho are obliged, for that purpose,
to travel perpetually from one end of the continent to the other. This
immense labour employs almost the whole of their time, and prevents
them from giving that application to the stud}^ of the law which is
necessary, in order to keep up renew and enlarge their stock of legal
knowledge. The fatigue, moreover, of such continual journies^ is
too great to be borne, for any length of time, by men of that ad-

LETTERS OF R. G. HARPER, 1800. 103

vanced age in which the experience, maturity of judgment, and
weight of character, necessary for a judge of the highest court in
the nation, are usually to be found : nor can it be expected, that men
of this description will long retain employments, the duties of which
retiuire them to be -so frequently and so long absent from their homes,
and deprived of their domestic comforts.

Small as the number of circuit courts now is, these circumstances
render it extremely improper to compel the judges of the supreme
court to hold them. In case of the number being encreased, it would
become utterly impossible. This encrease appeared unavoidable, for
the reasons already stated.

It was therefore proposed, to reduce the number of judges of the
supreme court to five* and to confine them to the business of that court ;
which must become very considerable, and will afford them sufficient
employment: and to appoint a new sett of judges, for the purpose of
holding the circuit courts. These were the two fundamental points
of the new system which was introduced : first to encrease the number
of circuit courts; and secondly to appoint a distinct set of judges for
holding them.

The business, however, being of great importance, and requiring
much consideration, it was thought best to postpone it till next ses-
sion of Congress. It will then, probably, be again brought forward.^

A dispute existing between the United States and the state of
Georgia, relative to the title of some lands on the Mississippi, where
Georgia claims a very extensive and valuable territory which she
has expressed a willingness to cede to the United States, commis-
sioners have been appointed on the part of the United States, to adjust
this dispute, and to agree on the terms of the proposed cession.^
Should it take place, of which strong hopes are entertained, a most
disagreeable cause of contention will be removed, and the United
States become possessed, on terms mutually advantageous, of a very
valuable territory.

In my last letter I informed you, that a motion was made early in
the session, for the reduction of the army; which was opposed and
rejected, on the ground that the state of things was yet too uncertain
to warrant such a measure; the tendency whereof, if adopted in the
beginning of a negociation, must be to render a fair and honorable
adjustment of differences less easy, by impressing the opposite party
with an opinion, that we were too weak too avaricious, or too much

1 The bill was introduced in the House Dec. 19, 1800. "Annals ", 6 Cong., 2 sess.,
837. It was not unreasonable to suspect that this bill, increasing the number of judicial
officers, and diminishing the chance of appointments to the Supreme Court by Adams's
successor, was framed with some view to the fortifying of Federalist party power.

= The commission consisted of Madison, Gallatin, and Levi Lincoln, on the part of
the United States, and James Jackson, Abraham Baldwin, and John Milledge, on th«^
part of Georgia. For the results of their negotiations see Adams, " History ", I, 302-800.


divided to support the measures necessary for resistance. These
reasons had, in a great degree, ceased before the close of the session.
It was then known that our Commissioners must have reached Paris
about the 10th of March, and consequently that the fate of their
mission, having in all probability been decided before the middle of
May, could not be affected by any thing to be done here after that
period. Tlie late revolution in France had also taken place. General
Buonaparte had suppressed the Directory and the Jacobins, and erected
his own power on their ruins. He manifestly aimed at acquiring pop-
ularity in France and in Europe, for his new government, by holding
out the appearance at least, of a just and pacific system, if not by
adopting it in reality. This plan would strongly incline him to a
reconciliation, on fair and honourable terms, with America, the quar-
rel with which was always unpopular in France, and had become much
more so, since she displayed the will and the means of resistance, and
since the effect of her measures had been felt in the French commer-
cial towns and colonies. Hence it was to be presumed, that the result
of the negociation would be favourable; and several measures of a
nature to confirm this opinion, and to shew that the new government
wished to be on good terms with this country, were known to have
been adopted by it. If, on the other hand, the result of the negocia-
tion should prove unfavourable, and our quarrel with France continue,
it was to be presumed that General Buonaparte's failure and misfor-
tunes in Egypt, would render him very cautious about attempting to
attack a country more distant, far more powerful, and which had
manifested a determination to defend itself. Should he feel the dis-
position, yet the formidable combination against him in Europe,
would find him full employment for all the means which his coun-
try, in its present exhausted state, could furnish. And in case of
a new change in the government, wdiich might place the Jacobins
again in power, or of a tide of success, which might revive the former
spirit of conquest, dominion, and injustice, Ave must have a warning
sufficiently long to enable us to provide anew for our defence ; which
the spirit and alacrity formerly displayed by the country, when
threatened with attack, gave the utmost assurance of our being able
very speedily to do, should the danger return.

This change in the state of things, between the beginning and the
end of the session, induced the persons who opposed the motion for
disbanding the army at the former period, to be of opinion that the
measure might be safely adopted at the latter. They therefore
brought it forward themselves, and it passed into a law.^ The dis-
charge of the troops is to take place on or before the 15th of June.

1 The debate on disbanding the army had gone on 'in the House from Jan. 1 till
May 14, two bills having been passed during that time. See "Annals ", 6 Cong., 1 sess.,
227, 375, 425, 691, 713-714.

LETTERS OF K. G. HARPER, 1800. 105

But as those troops are to be discharged suddenly, and sooner than
was expected at the time when they were raised, it was tho't rea-
sonable and just to make them an allowance of three months pay
after their discharge; so as to finable them to look about them at
their return home, and support themselves till they can get into new
occupations. This was not only a just measure, but a very wise one;
since it will operate as a strong encouragement to persons, to enter
into the service on any future occasion, when it may be necessary to
prepare for defence.

This reduction of the army will probably constitute a saving of
about two millions, in the expences of the year.

Many other acts were passed during the session, but they are not
sufficiently important to be detailed here. Far the greater number,
as usually happens, are of a temporary nature, or intended for par-
ticular purposes. The business of a government so extensive as ours,
necessarily requires a great number of occasional and temporary
laws ; but those of a general and permanent nature, are far less nu-
merous than is sometimes supposed.

No official or direct accounts have been received from our Com-
missioners since their arrival in France. It is, however, known from
the public prints, that they are in Paris; that they were received
with great cordiality b}^ the people of France and with great respect
by the Government, and that General Buonaparte has appointed
three Commissioners to treat with them, one of whom is his
brother.^ It also appears, that the French, at present, abstain in
a great measure from molesting our vessels, except in cases where
they are authorized to do so by the law of nations ; and that several
which were detained improperly have been released. Thus the spir-
ited conduct and wise measures of our Government, aided and sup-
ported b}' the courage of the nation, are likely to produce their
natural and usual effect, of avoiding a serious and destructive war
on one hand, and maintaining our rights and honour on the other.

Appearances in Europe are more favourable to the hope of a gen-

Online LibraryAmerican Historical AssociationAnnual report of the American Historical Association (Volume 1913, v.2) → online text (page 12 of 64)