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that coaxing and flattery would not do with us, they are now resolved
to try what can be effected by blustering and ill-treatment. Puffed
up too by their victories in Europe, they have begun to think that
they have a right to dictate to all nations; after the example of the
Romans, whom in all things they endeavor to imitate. It is im-
possible to foresee what will be the event. The plan of our govern-
ment is to try every means of amicable negociation and settlement.
If these should fail, we must defend ourselves, however reluctantly.


I do not however believe that they will fail. I do not believe that
France intends a serious quarrel with us. It is against all her most
obvious interests. But she probably thinks that we will not quarrel
with her; that we will prefer submission to any ill-treatment, before
a direct and open rupture: that sooner than fight her, we will com-
pel our government to submit to any terms which hers may think
fit to dictate. In all this I trust and believe she will find herself
mistaken; and that as soon as she discovers her mistake, she will
recede, and agree to a reasonable accommodation.^ In the mean
time as her present system of finance consists in plunder, she will
plunder us to the amount of some nine or ten millions of dollars,
which will be of great use to her; and the day of retribution, if it
ever arrives, will be very slow and long in coming. She will, more-
over, injure through us the commerce of England; which is one great
object of her policy.

Thus you see, my dear sir, that in our present infant and unarmed
state, we are obliged to endure many injuries and vexations from all
parties. Our hope is that this war will soon be at an end, and that
before another breaks out, we shall be able to place ourselves in a
situation better calculated to command respect from the different
powers who may be engaged in it.

The Empress of Russia is dead, which, it is supposed, may occa-
sion some material changes in the affairs of Europe. Her son, who
succeds her, cannot be a greater tyrant, but he may be a less wise
one ; for it is probable that Europe has never produced an abler mon-
arch than Catharine the second.^ It is just also to mention that, as
cruel and unjust as she was towards her neighbors, and despotic at
home, she instituted many wise and beneficial laws, and governed
her own country in such a manner as greatly to promote and increase
its prosperity.

Our poor unfortunate friend la Fayette is still in his dungeon.'
An attempt was made to get Congress to take some step on his
subject, which if it did not effect his release, might at least sooth
his feelings; but the majority thought it delicate and dangerous
ground, and that it was best not to venture on it at present.

Should our accounts from General Pinckney be unfavorable, Con-
gress may possibly be called together during the summer; for some

1 Note in the original print : " It need not be remarked ttiat tiiis was precisely what

a Catherine II (1729-1796), who died Nov. 17, and was succeeded by Paul I.

* Note in the original print : " The writer thinics himself bound to state, that since
writing this letter, he has received the most satisfactory information that La Fayette
never was in a Dungeon ; that while detained as a prisoner by the Emperor of Germany,
his confinement was of the mildest nature, in a spacious building a great part or the
whole of which was open to him, with a good table, good lodgings and a Library ; and
that he had permission to ride out twice a week for air and exercise, attended only by a
Sentinel, which was not withdrawn till he made use of It to attempt his escape."


measures may be thought necessary which the Executive has not
power to adopt. As soon as we know the event of these matters you
shall hear from me again.

In the mean time adieu.
P. S. — March 19th^ 1797. — There are yet no certain accounts from
General Pinckney; but it is confirmed that the British negociation
is broken off. The two parties, as usual, mutually accuse each other
of having been the cause of it.

Harper to his Constituents.

Philadelphia, July 24th, 1797.
My Dear Sir: Altho' Congress adjourned early in this month,
1 have been prevented from writing till now, by my attendance on
a committee, which has been appointed to sit during the recess, and
prepare articles of impeachment against William Blount,^ one of
the Senators from the state of Tenessee. He and some others had
formed a design of making proposals to the British government for
the conquest of the Floridas and Louisiana. If the British govern-
ment should enter into the project, they were to send a force by sea,
or from Canada; and this force was to be aided by such of the
western country people and the Indians, as Blount and his associates
could induce to join. They hoped, with the assistance perhaps of
money from the British, to raise a considerable number. The matter
was proposed to the British minister last winter, who declined any
interference himself, but referred the whole affair to his govern-
ment, by whom it was also declined. In the mean time, Blount, not
suspecting that his plan would be rejected, employed himself in
preparing matters to the westward ; and among other steps for that
purpose, wrote a letter to an Indian interpreter, in the service of our
government, who put it into the hands of his superiors. By them it
was transmitted to the President, and he laid it before Congress.
The plot being thus discovered, Mr. Blount was expelled by the
Senate, and impeached by the House of Eepresentatives : and the
committee appointed to conduct the impeachment was ordered to
enquire into the whole plan, its object, extent, and associates. In those
enquiries it is now engaged, and will be for some time to come, which
will make it necessary for me to remain here, or in this neighbour-
hood, till the meeting of Congress. This meeting is fixt for the
second Monday in November.

I William Blount (1744-1800), senator from Tennessee, expelled in July, 1797. The
impeachment was never tried, as Blount, after his expulsion from the Senate, was elected
to the senate of Tennessee and declined to appear before the United States Senate, deny-
ing their jurisdiction over him. Schouler, " History of the United States ", I, 377.


This affair of Mr. Blount has ah^eady been productive of very
great injury to the United States; for the Spaniards having been
apprised of it long before it became laiown to our government, it fur-
nished them with a reason, or pretext at least, for delaying to deliver
up the posts on the Mississippi, or to execute the treaty. Before they
found this pretext, however, they availed themselves of others, more
futile still ; and there appears to me every reason to believe that they
act in this respect, as in all others, by the orders of the French, whose
interest it is, while our dispute with them continues, to keep us on
the eve of a rupture with Spain, and to prevent us from gaining pos-
session of the posts on the Mississippi. Every step has been taken to
remove the objections of the Spaniards, and they ought certainly to
be satisfied ; but I have no expectation mj^self , that they will be per-
mitted to execute the treaty, while our misunderstanding with France
continues. When that is at an end, we and the Spaniards shall be
good friends of course; unless France should think fit to make them
break the treaty entirely, by way of preventing the encrease of our
strength on the Mississippi.

As to the French, our affairs with them are still in a most uncertain
state. The President having resolved, as he declared in his speech to
Congress,^ to institute a fresh attempt at negociation, proceeded
soon afterwards to appoint three commissioners to be sent to France
for that purpose, with the character of Envoys Extraordinary. The
first of them was Genl. Pinckney, who after being driven from
France waited in Holland for new instructions. The second was Mr.
John ISIarshall of Virginia, and the third Mr. Gerry of Massa-

Some persons were of opinion that it would be best to send Genl.
Pinckney alone, which could have been done with more expedition,
as he was near the place : but the President judged differently. His
chief reason probably was, that to send three persons of high char-
acter from the three great divisions of the Union, the southern,
middle, and eastern States, would not only render the embassy more
solemn, but would attach to it a greater weight of public confidence.
In matters of such moment also, as little as possible should be left to
chance; and had one man only been employed, he might have died,
or been detained by sickness, while the public interests would have
suffered before his place could be supplied.

Mr. Marshall sailed some days ago for Amsterdam, where he will
join Genl. Pinckney. Mr. Gerry, who was to embark at Boston, has
probably sailed also. Should their endeavours be crowned with suc-

1 "Annals ", 5 Cong., 1 sess., 54-59.

2 Dana, Marshall, and Pinckney were nominated May 31, Gerry's name was substi-
tuted for Dana's June 20, and the nominations confirmed June 21. " Sen. Ex. Journ..",
1789-1805, 241, 244, 245.


cess, and peace be preserved, it will be a great happiness to our country.
Should they be unsuccessful, we shall at least have the satisfaction of
reflecting that we have done all in our power to avoid a quarrel, and
this will render us cordial and united in defence of our rights.

There were many who thought, and myself among the rest, that the
best method of ensuring success to this embassy, was to adopt vigorous
preparations at home, and thereby to convince the French that
though desirous of peace, we were resolved and able to protect our
rights and repel aggression. This system was in part adopted. A
sum of money was granted for fortifying the ports and harbours.^
Three frigates were ordered to be manned and equipt for sea ; and the
President was authorised to fit out and arm a number of small vessels
called Revenue cutters, for the defence of the sea coast and the
rivers.^ He was also authorised to take measures for calling out,
arming and equipping eighty thousand militia, to march, in case of
need, from the different states, in various proportions according to
their population.^ The portion of South Carolina was fixt at three
thousand five hundred and thirty-five. None of these militia are to
remain in service more than three months, after arriving at the place
of rendezvous ; and while in the field are to receive pay and rations :
and the President is authorised to accept the service of volunteer
corps of horse, artillery, etc. which may offer to turn out instead of
being drafted. The exportation of arms and ammunition was also
prohibited for a limited time.

Some other measures of defence and preparation were proposed,
but rejected, on the ground that they would be certainly expensive,
and might prove unnecessary; and to some it was objected that they
were liable to abuse, and might tend to widen a breach which it is our
interest and our wish to use all means of healing. It was for this
reason, principally, that Congress refused to grant convoys for the
protection of our ships, or to authorise their arming in their own
defence, till we know whether our embassy will be successful or not.

The expence of the measures which were adopted, added to those
of the extraordinary session, were estimated at nearly 800,000 dollars;
which sum, as it is not in the treasury, the President was authorised
to borrow, if necessary, payable out of the proceeds of the new reve-
nues. This loan, however, may be unnecessary; for the revenue of
1796 has been greater than was expected, and that of 1797, as far as
it is yet known, has greatly increased. Should this encrease continue
till the end of the year, there will be a surplus from the present taxes,
sufficient to defray all, or nearly all, the expences voted this session.

This encrease, however, is not to be confidently relied on, and it
was therefore thought necessary to furnish some new taxes. Should

1 Approved June 23, 1797; c. 3.

2 Approved July 1, 1707: c. 7.

» Approved June 24, 1797 ; c. 4.


we be driven into war, for which a full treasury is one of the best
preparations, these new taxes will assist us in supporting it; and
should we happily preserve peace, they will be wanted for the pay-
ment of our debt, and the gradual equipment of a fleet for the defence
of our commerce, in future wars among the great maritime powers
of Europe.

The necessity of such a defence may be judged of from one cir-
cumstance. In the course of the present war, we have lost, by the
depredations of the different belligerent powers, from twelve to fif-
teen millions of dollars ; enough to equip and maintain a considerable
naval force.

The new taxes adopted this session, are an additional duty on salt,
and a stamp duty.^ Salt formerly paid 12 cents upon the bushel of
56 weight, and this raised a net revenue of about two hundred and
thirty thousand dollars. The additional duty is 8 cents to the bushel ;
which being two thirds of the former, will give about one hundred
and forty thousand dollars; a sum which I believe, could not be
raised in any other manner, with so little inconvenience to the people.
The additional duty is too light to be felt, and indeed the whole
being only 20 cents, or one fifth of a dollar, on the bushel, is very

The stamp duty is so contrived as to fall almost entirely on money
transactions. Indeed four-fifths of it, perhaps a much greater pro-
portion, will be paid by the trading towns. It takes in no contracts
for the delivery of property, no bills of sale, no conveyances of land,
nor any bonds or notes under twenty dollars. Bonds, notes, etc.
above 20, and not exceeding 100 dollars, pay 10 cents : above 100, and
not exceeding 500, 25 cents: above 500, and not exceeding 1000, 50
cents: and above 1000, 75 cents. Notes for only 60 days or under,
pay but two-fifths of the duty; because as they are renewed several
times in the course of a year, it is not reasonable that they should pay
as much as notes made for a whole year at first. Bank notes pay a
higher duty ; but as it is very inconvenient to stamp them, the banks
are allowed to pay a sum of money in lieu of the duty on their notes.
Certificates of naturalization pay 5 dollars each, and attorney's
licences 10.

There are various other papers ordered to be stampt, but they are
almost wholly of a mercantile nature ; and having little or no use in
country places, need not be enumerated here.

No paper directed to be stampt, can be received as evidence in a
court of justice without the stamp; but any person desiring to give
such paper in evidence, may get it stampt, by applying to the super-
visor and paying ten dollars.

^The act of levying a duty on salt approved July 8, the act providing for a stamp
tax approved July 6 ; cc. 15, 16.


The operation of this duty is to commence on the 1st of January
next, and in the mean time the Secretary of the Treasury is to devise
stamps, and publish them in the Gazettes. He is also to furnish every
part of the United States with sufficient quantities of stampt parch-
ment and paper, which may be sold to the people for the amount of
the duty, and a reasonable advance for paper, work, and transporta-
tion. To write or print on unstampt paper, and with intent to
defraud the revenue, any of the instruments directed to be stampt, is
punishable by fine of 100 dollars ; and if done by an officer employed
in the collection the fine is to be 500 dollars and forfeiture of the
office: and to counterfeit the stamps, or use them privately for de-
frauding the revenue, is punishable by fine not exceeding 1000 dol-
lars, and imprisonment not exceeding 7 years, both at the discretion
of the court.

Such is the outline of the stamp act, to which some persons have
objected, perhaps more on account of the name than the thing, but
which appears to me, as here modified, to be one of the best, most
equal, and least inconvenient modes of raising money. It executes
itself, requires few officers, very little expence, and few or no prose-
cutions; for when every person who has a paper to execute may pro-
cure a stamp by riding a few miles to an officer who will be furnished
with them for sale, nobod}^ will run the risk of losing his debt and in-
curring a penalty, by writing on unstampt paper ; and as most of those
transactions the evidences of which are to be stampt will take place in
towns, there will be very little inconvenience in procuring the paper.

Hj excepting deeds, bills of sale, and notes and bonds under 20
dollars, almost all the transactions of people in country places, will
be freed from the operation of the act.

It is impossible to estimate exactly the amount of this tax; but
some well informed men calculate it at two, three, and even four hun-
dred thousand dollars ; some even go as high as five hundred hundred
thousand. A merchant here, of the first information, assured me that
it would raise three hundred thousand dollars in Philadelphia alone :
an estimate however which appeared to me far too high. But I
have no doubt that if we can escape a war, this tax and the additional
salt duty, will enable us to sink our debt and meet all our engage-
ments without a land tax; which, be it managed as it may, will be
found very inconvenient and unequal.

I think our chance of escaping a war is better now than it appeared
some time ago. France has made peace with the Emperor ^ on terms
very honourable to herself, and not hard on him considering his late
def eats.2 England is not yet included in this peace : but I have little

1 Francis II (1768-1835), who had succeeded Leopold II in 1792.

2 Napoleon had signed the armistice of Leoben, the basis for the peace of Campo
Formio, on April 18.


doubt that she soon will be. Neither she or France have any thing to
gain, and both much to lose, by continuing the war. The French
government probably wishes to prolong it, in hopes of destroying the
commerce and credit of England; but the ruined state of the country,
and the miserable condition of their finances, which will become
much more embarrassing now that they are obliged to support their
armies at home, must render it extremely difficult. The nation also,
which sufi'ers greatly, and now finds itself free from those dangers
from abroad which heretofore induced submission to its sufferings,
must be ver}'^ desirous of peace and become daily more and more so.
To these difficulties and desires I think it probable that the govern-
ment will be forced to yield ; and the situation of England is not such
as to make her backward.

Whether this peace will extend to us, or whether France, being
freed from her European enimies, will pursue her projects against
this countr}^ with more violence than ever, is a most doubtful point.
I incline to the former opinion, and here again I rely much more on
the disposition of the people of France than the views of the govern-
ment. The strong wish for peace among the people, will probably
apply to this Country as well as to England; and our moderation,
especially the last step of sending commissioners, will have a tend-
ency to render an attack on us very unpopular. The firm position
too which we have taken, and our spirited declaration that we will
defend our rights at all hazards, may induce the French government
to reflect seriously on the consequences of pushing their measures to
a greater length.

All these considerations, joined to the embarrassed situation of the
government at home, and its earnest wish to re-establish its colonies,
restore its commerce, and recruit its marine, may probably incline the
French government to pacific counsels. We ought not however to
rely with too much confidence on this hope; but to hold ourselves
prepared for a very contrary event.

That the hope may be realized, and we may once more have occa-
sion to rejoice in the happy situation and prospects of our country,
is no doubt your wish, as it is most sincerely that of, [etc.].

Bayard to Richard Bassett.^

Philadelphia, SO Deer. 1797.
Dear Sir: Very little has occurred since my return to the city^
which was worth communicating to you. The mind of Congress as

1 Richard Bassett (1745-1815), Bayard's father-in-law, a member of the Constitu-
tional Convention, from 17S9 to 1793 a member of the Senate, from 1798 to 1801 gov-
ei-nor of Delaware, in 1801-1802 U. S. circuit judge.

a Bayard had taken his seat in the House Nov. 14.


well as of the rest of the world seems suspended as to the measures
our nation should adopt in relation to France, upon the expectation
of intelligence to be received from our Commissioners which will
enable us to act with decision.^

I confess I am one of those who think, that tho our situation is
infinitely embarrassing and aukward, j^et as we have gone so far on
the plan of conciliation it would be very unpolitic to depart from
the system till such authentic information is rece[i]ved from our
Ministers as will put beyond any doubt the views of the Directory.
The measure of arming the merchant vessels was brought forward
and strenuously supported by the New England Gentlemen, but was
postponed till the 1st. Monday in February.^ In the mean time the
depredations on our commerce continue, and tho they cannot add
to our humiliation, yet encrease merchantile distress. But tho I
am not insensible to the disgrace of our Situation nor without feel-
ings for the losses of our merchants yet I conceive it so very im-
portant to manage the public opinion and to attach confidence to the
measures of the federal Party, that to hazard a disunion by prema-
ture measures that wear the aspect of hostility when the moment is
so fast approaching which will strip the enemies of the Government
of every pretense of apposition, Avould be in my estimation very ill-
judged. There is little hope remaining of an accommodation with
France. There is undoubted information that our Commissioners
had been twelve days at Paris, had sent a copy of their credentials
(according to diplomatic form) to Perigord^ the minister of for-
eign relations, and he had not either officially or personally taken
any notice of them. This perhaps is the reason that the Executive
has yet reed, no official communications from them.

Much is said of the new system of naval warfare adopted by the
Directory.* It is supposed that an entire change of maritime tac-
tics will be the • consequence. The unwieldly ships of the line will
answer little purpose in opposing frigates and privateers dispersed
over the ocean. The mighty fleets of England, will find no enemy to
oppose them but the winds and waves. Their strength will waste
for want of exercise and the naval skill of their officers which the
education of a life could alone give, will be forgot and lost. Such

1 Marshall and Gerry had joined Pinckney in Paris on Oct. 4, 1797. Their first
despatches were not received in Washington until Mar. 4.

2 Dec. 26. See "Annals ", 5 Cong., 2 sess., 764.

'Talleyrand (Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord), Minister of Foreign Affairs
since July, 1797, had received Gerry unofficially on Oct. 28. Before this, however, the
American envoys had learned through Messrs. Hottinguer, Bellamy, and Hauteval (the
X. Y. and Z. of the reports) of the French demands. Schouler, " History ", I, 3S6-393.

* The Directory had near the end of 1795 determined to discontinue sending out
large fleets but to use single cruisers or small squadrons to attack the commerce of Great
Britain. Mahan, " Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire ",
I, 335.


is the prediction of speculative opinion at present, but its truth can
be ascertained only by experience.

The political and moral world present us with novelties on every
side. A new era has arisen and centuries will probably trace the
causes of events to the changes which have taken place in our times.
The Barbarians who inundated the Roman Empire and broke to
peices the institutions of the civilized world in my opinion inno-
vated the state of things not more than the french revolution which
has scattered sentiments thro' the world as powerful and destructive

Online LibraryAmerican Historical AssociationAnnual report of the American Historical Association (Volume 1913, v.2) → online text (page 5 of 64)