Maunsell Van Rensselaer.

Annals of the Van Rensselaers in the United States online

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gig, a very useful vehicle in those days. On one of
these he heard cries of distress in the woods, and on
following the sound discovered a rider mired in a
bog, into which his horse was gradually sinking.
With such branches and sticks as he found at hand
he helped horse and rider out of their danger, which
was imminent in that lonesome spot, and after receiv-
ing his grateful thanks passed on. Afterwards at an
entertainment at Albany he was introduced to the
famous Talleyrand, who had been driven from France
by the excesses of the Jacobins, and recognized in
him the traveler whom he had rescued ! The French-
man did not recognize him, and he, of course, did
not allude to the obligation. What vast changes in
the history of France, of Europe, and indeed of the
world, might not have taken place but for that rencon-
tre, and the rescue from a bog in the wilds of America
of the man who became the Machiavellian minister
of Napoleon !

There were no express companies then and no
banks except in the cities, and in the course of these
expeditions into the country for their clients lawyers
were obliged to collect and carry along with them
large sums of money, taking the risks of meeting

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robbers. On one occasion, as my uncle Richard told
me, when his father had taken him with him, they
were obliged to transport in the gig a bag filled with
silver collected on the expedition, which it was his
business to carry in and out of the taverns where they
lodged on their journey, and he had cause to remem-
ber that it was no easy burden to bear. But they
brought it in safety to Albany.

His profession brought him into frequent corres-
pondence with De Witt Clinton, then practicing law
in New York. From several letters I give the follow-
ing, as showing a friendly feeling that was kept up
through life:

"Dear Sir:

" I shall avail myself of your obliging offer to attend to
such of my business in Albany as may be necessary, and
hope that you will not be backward in requesting the like
from me. ** I am, Sir,

" With great esteem,

" Your most obedt. Servt.,
" 22 June, 1792. " De Witt Clinton.

" New York."

Ambrose Spencer, afterwards the distinguished
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of
New York, was one of his most constant and familiar
correspondents. The following is especially interest-
ing as marking a step in the early career of one who
afterwards became so eminent :

" Hudson, July 27, 1793.
" I shall be up on Monday evening or Tuesday morning. I
am detemiined to apply for my examination as Solicitor in
Chancery and wish your Company upon the Examination,
and more the better — mention it to the young Gentlemen
entitled to Examination.

" I am yours sincerely,

"Ambrose Spencer."

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He was active in advancing the interests of his

political party, and his advice was sought by leading

Federalists.

"Manor House, 24 Feby., 1792.
** Hope our friends were all well in New York. Let me
know how matters stand respecting Governor. If Judge
Yates will not oblige his friends and step forward in return
for their exertions last time, I cannot see any probabilily of
fixing on any other person that will answer the end proposed.
Beg your thoughts and that of your Citizens on the Subject

"Yours Sincerely,

"Peter R. Livingston."

As Chairman of the Federal General Committee
he signed an appeal to the people of the State, April
9, 1798, together with John C. Cuyler, A. Hun, S.
Bleecker and C. R. Webster, to solicit their suffrages
for their candidates at the coming election.

The Patroon was an active member of the Feder-
alist party, of which his father-in-law. Gen. Schuyler,
was the leader, and Alexander Hamilton, his brother-
in-law, the great ornament and strength, by his great
ability and distinguished services as a soldier and the
founder and organizer of the Treasury Department
of the United States. Mr. Van Rensselaer was a
member of the State Legislature of 1795, and during
its session in New York, then the capital, he wrote
the following characteristic letter to one of his lead-
ing constituents, highly illustrative of the politics of
the times :

"New York, March 18, 1795.
" Dear Sir :

" I have received your letters, but being engaged daily, I
have not answered them so soon as I ought. The money
was very acceptable — indeed, if I remain here much longer
I shall be obliged to mortgage the Manor. It gives me
great pleasure to find that unanimity prevails in the County,

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and particularly in my towns. You should not, however,
relax in your exertions to continue it, for I apprehend every
effort will be made previous to the Election to divide us.
You will therefore take care to commit as many of the
principal folks as possible.

" We shall adjourn the first week in April, and not sooner.
I am sorry to hear that your mother is still indisposed. I
hope the Journey has been of service to the Judge. Make
my compliments to all the Family, and not forgetting Mr.
Bassett.

** Mr. Jay has written to his friends here that he will sail
in April ; his letter was dated the 5 December. The greatest
unanimity prevails here; we calculate on a majority of 1,000,
" Your Friend, &c,

" S. V. Rensselaer."

The aggressive course of the French Directory
towards neutrals was resented by the United States in
consequence of the great injury to their commerce,
and preparations were made for war. General Wash-
ington was made Commander-in-chief, and Alexander
Hamilton a Major-General. Gen. Hamilton made
Philip S. Church, grandson of Gen. Schuyler, his
aide-de-camp. More than fifty years afterwards he
was at dinner at Miss Wadsworth's, afterwards Mrs.
Murray, when she asked him, in my presence, why he
was called ** Captain " Church. '*0," said he, ** once
a captain, always a captain. Gen. Hamilton made
me his aide when we expected a war with France,
and I have been a captain ever since."

My grandfather's patriotism and military ardor
prompted him at this period to raise a company of
volunteers among his fellow-citizens. The following
is in his own handwriting, and signed first by him :

** We, the subscribers, do hereby promise and engage to
form ourselves into a Company, to be called the "Albany
Guards," and when forty subscribe, the company officers are

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to be elected. TTie regulations respecting uniform and
dress, together with the Rules for its discipline and police
are to be agreed on by the Company.
"July 27, 1798."

He always held and inculcated that every citizen
of the United States was a soldier when he could
bear arms, and one of my earliest experiences was to
be drilled by him in the manual of arms and the
facings and steps of a soldier.

In those days every gentleman whose reputation
was assailed was expected to vindicate it by " calling
out " his assailant and fighting a duel with him. My
great-uncle, John Sanders, and Abraham Van Vechten
were shining lights of the Feneralist party, but that
did not prevent their having a disagreement, which
became a question of veracity. My uncle was a man
of high honor and jealous of his reputation, and
withal of high courage and resolution, and he sent a
challenge to Mr. Van Vechten, putting it into the
hands of my grandfather to be delivered to Mr. Van
Vechten, as his second. He was referred to Mr.
Emott as Mr. Van Vechten's second. Before making
arrangements for the deadly meeting, the two friends
set to work to see whether they could not bring
the antagonists to terms and settle the difficulty.
Accordingly my grandfather wrote to his principal
the following letter, which was most creditable to
himself and to all engaged in it, and one of the most
honorable records which remain of him :

" Dear Sir :

" Mr. Emott and myself wish to interpose and settle in a
friendly manner your difference with Mr. V. Vechten, if it
can be done consistently. I hope, Sir, altho' this attempt
is made at a late hour, we shall not be the less successful in

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the end. Should this favorable interposition meet your
approbation, pray drop me a line, and the time, place and
measures will be fixed by Mr. Emott and myself, unless
intervening circumstances make it necessary to have them
altered. ** I am. Sir,

" With sentiments of esteem,

** Your friend and Hble Servt,
** K. K. Van Rensselaer.
" August 24, 1799."

This drew forth the following characteristic reply :

"Scotia, Augt. 26th, 1799.
"Dear Sir:

" Your letter of yesterday's date I have now before me.
Your wishes to interpose with Mr. Van Veghten and myself
respecting our dispute I thank you and Mr. Emot for. I
cannot under present circumstances see how friends can
well interpose with me, since Mr. Van Veghten has thought
proper to deny his assertions made to me, before the bar of
the public ; besides I have been credibly informed he has
charged me in public company with having reported lies
about him. I conceive I am in duty bound to support the
truth and my own character and reputation. I have accord-
ingly sent my affidavit to Messrs. Websters respecting the
business. I still stand charged before the public of having
declared an untruth — how or in what manner can friends
settle this ? Will Mr. Van Veghten disavow what he has
said ? Your friendly interference is very natural, and I wish
had been more timely before the business was circumstanced
as it now is. I confess I can not see how it can now be
compromised.

" I however wish you to stop the publication I sent to the
Messrs, Websters, that Mr. Van Veghten and his friends may
see that I am disposed to a settlement of this unpleasant
business ; if a mode can be suggested and devised by them
of accomplishing it on just, fair and reasonable principles, I
will meet it with readiness. But the business has been car-
ried now, I think, too far for accommodation. Any propo-
sitions they wish to attempt ought to be made without loss
of time, as this business has been already too long protracted.
" I am. Sir,

** Your friend and hmble Servt,

" J. Sanders."

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This reply did not promise much success to their
peacemaking efforts. But they were not discouraged,
and persevered until they succeded in reconciling the
antagonists, and winning all the glory from the strife
in becoming ** peacemakers."



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CHAPTER SEVENTH.



CONGRESSIONAL CAREER.



My grandfather was elected a Representative in
the seventh Congress in his thirty-seventh year. It
was the first one that met in Washington, and was
the precursor of many critical events in the history
of the nation. Jefferson had just been elected Presi-
dent by the preceding House of Representatives after
a heated and doubtful contest with Colonel Aaron
Burr, during which civil war had been talked of unless
a choice was made. The whole policy of the govern-
ment was on the eve of a revolution from the system
inaugurated by Washington and advocated by the
Federalists, of whom, as mentioned previously, my
grandfather was one, and of whom General Schuyler
was the acknowledged leader in New York. Harrison
Gray Otis, his college correspondent, had been a
member of the two preceding Congresses. He was
re-elected for four successive terms thereafter, and
served through the two terms of Jefferson and half of
the first of Madison. Both houses were filled at that
time with distinguished men from all parts of the
nation, among whom were Rufus King, Governeur
Morris, Philip V. Cortlandt, John Cotton Smith,
James A. Bayard, John Randolph, James Madison,

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Rutledge, Huger and Sumter, from South Carolina.
Albert Gallatin, of a name famous in Geneva, Switz-
erland, began his distinguished career as Secretary of
the Treasur>-, and Gideon Granger was made Post-
master-General. Henry Clay entered Congress just
as my grandfather was about to leave it.

The Constitution of the United States leaves to
the Senators and Representatives to "ascertain by
law *' the amount to be paid them for their services ;
and the rate established by the fathers — $3 a day
and twenty cents a mile — was moderate enough for
those days. It cost my grandfather to get to Wash-
ington from Albany to his first session $58.06, and
his expenses for three sessions averaged $361.33,
while he received on an average only $324, and that
not promptly paid. Board was $10 a week, a very
high rate for that time, but ridiculously small for the
habits of present Congressmen. Sometimes the
members formed messes, and he seems to have been
the treasurer of one composed of Generals Dayton
and Morris, Colonel Sims and Messrs. Bayard, Wal-
ker, Thomas Morris, Campbell, Hill and Wood. The
visiting card of the day varied from a model of sim-
plicity to a piece of card-board impressed with
elaborate designs of a nondescript character. ** A :
Burr," then Vice-President, wrote his name in his
distinct, bold hand on one of the former, while that
of " Mr. Madison " is inscribed in an elaborate border
of filagree work adorned with flowers, a lute and
guitars : that of '* Le Comte de Pahlen, Envoys Ext :
et Ministre Pleni : de S. M : TEmpereur de toutes
les Russies," was engraved in the modern style.
President Jefferson's invitations to dinner were printed

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on coarse paper, and informed the recipient that
** Thos. Jefferson requests the favour of Mr. Van R.

to dine with him on day next at 2 o'clock, or as

soon thereafter as the adjournment of the House will
permit; " the carrying out of which humble waiting
on the pleasure and convenience of the House of
Representatives must have elicited the patience as
well as the skill of the **Aunty " who ruled in the
Presidential kitchen. President Madison improved
on the dinner hour, as follows: " J. Madison requests
the favor of Mr. Van R. to dine with him on Tues-
day next at four o'clock." Another invitation re-
calls one of General Washington's closest friends,
whom he persuaded to become a resident of Wash-
ington in its infancy, and who built the spacious
mansion on the corner of New York avenue and
Eighteenth street, which is one of the surviving
relics of the primitive city, not having been destroyed
by the British in 1814 — Colonel Tayloe: *' Mr. Tay-
loe requests the favor of Mr. Van Rensselaer to dine
with him on Saturday next at 4 o'clock. The favour
of an answer is requested. Wensday 9th febry."
And the Plenipotentiary of the Czar of Russia sends
an invitation : ** Count Pahlen requests the honour
of Mr. Van Rensselaer's company at dinner on Mon-
day February i8th at half-past four o'clock. The
favour of an answer is requested." The ambassador
of Napoleon was not successful in getting the name
of the Representative, as appears by the following :
" General Turreau requests the favour of Mr. Wan-
rasselaer's company to dine on Wednesday next at
four o'clock. Thursday, December 20th, 18 10. An
answer is requested."

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My grandfather's commencement of his Congres-
sional career was marked by a change from the custom
of Washington in reading an address to the Congress
in person, to that of the President's addressing a mes-
sage, which has ever since been pursued. He was
placed on the most important committee on Ways and
Means. The pernicious policy of diminishing the
number of years required for the naturalization of
foreigners from fourteen to five was recommended by
Jefferson and adopted by Congress; the perilous
fruits of which we are reaping in the domination of
foreign ideas and methods which threaten the very
existence of the freedom which it cost our fathers so
much blood and treasure to gain for us. Mr. Jeffer-
son was opposed to the *' spoils ** system in appoint-
ing to public offices, nor can he justly be accused of
inconsistency in his course ; but his removals of Fed-
eralists from offices to which they had been appointed
undoubtedly was the little end of the wedge which
has played such havoc in our public service. The
ten years of my grandfather's service in Congress
were signalized by some of the most important crises
in our national history, and he was called on to take
part in meeting and shaping them. The purchase of
Louisiana from France, beginning with a modest offer
for the acquisition of New Orleans, and ending with
the transfer of the vast territory west of the Missis-
sippi, was the chief act of the Jefferson administration,
which made the peaceable dissolution of the Union
thenceforth impossible. On the recommendation of
the President a sword and medals were voted to naval
officers who had captured a Tripoli corsair after a
fight, and thus made our flag respected by those

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pirates. The famous expedition of Lewis and Clarke,
which had been planned by the President, and was one
of his best and wisest plans for the country, was sent
out in 1804, and laid the foundation for the future ex-
plorations and the settlement of the great west The
famous Cumberland road, which became a subject for
so much contention on the part of the '* strict con-
structionists " of the Constitution, was begun in 1806,
to open the route from the seaboard to the Ohio.
The conspiracy and expedition of Colonel Burr for
the invasion of Mexico occupied the minds of all in
1806, and called forth the most vigorons measures of
the administration for its suppression; although he
managed to escape conviction on his trial in Rich-
mond from want of evidence, as might have been ex-
pected from so able a lawyer and shrewd a scoundrel
as he was. The war in Europe between Napoleon
and Great Britain, during which arbitrary decrees and
orders were issued by both combatants, seriously crip-
pling our commerce and ruining our merchants, caused
the government to retaliate by an embargo and non-
intercourse, by which we injured ourselves as much
as we did them. The dissatisfaction in New England
on account of the stagnation in trade, was intense,
and at one time threatened a secession. The provis-
ion of the Constitution for the abolition of the slave
trade in twenty years was carried into effect by Con-
gress in 1808. The refusal of Congress in 181 1 to
renew the charter of the Bank of the United States,
which was earnestly desired by the mercantile com-
munity, was the cause of wide-spread distress, as was
made clear from the correspondence of the day. Ful-
ton's great achievement in propelling boats by steam

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in 1 807 marked a new era in the progress of the na-
tion and of mankind. Inventors and schemers were
busy as they are now, and Louis Dupr6 and Thomas
Bruff, respectively, petitioned for a grant to enable
them to perfect their plans for ** perpetual motion ; "
but they were allowed to withdraw their petitions.
European complications were continually threatening
us, and the nation was slowly but surely drifting into
a war with Great Britain, chiefly on account of her
practice of stopping and searching our ships for
alleged British sailors. January 17, 1806, he wrote
to my father, then at college in Montreal :

" Our country is truly in a delicate situation, and our trade
and commerce makes us an object for all nations to court,
and the least partiality to one more than the other renders
us an object of envy and resentment ; hence, a disposition
for the European powers whom we do not favor to entangle
us in a war, which I trust we shall avoid."

The contest between Jefferson and Burr for the
presidency, both having received an equal number of
electoral votes for President, had revealed a defect in
the Constitution, to correct which Congress adopted
the present provision, three-fourths of the States con-
curring. The Legislature of New York had pre-
viously proposed the amendment in resolutions which
were sent to the Senators and Representatives at Wash-
ington with the following letter :

"Albany, 2d Feb. 1802.
" Sir :

" In behalf and by request of the Legislature of this State,
we do ourselves the honor of transmitting to you the above
Resolutions, which passed both Houses without a dissenting



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voice ; and we earnestly request that you will use your best
exertions in carrying the same into effect.

" We have the honor to be,

" With the highest consideration,
** Your most obedient Servants,
" Jer. V. Rensselaer, President of Senate.
"Attested "Thomas Storm, Speaker of Assembly.
" Abm B. Bancker, Clk
"of the Senate.
"Jas. Van Ingen, Clk

" of the Assembly."

The change which the Telegraph has wrought is.
illustrated by the following :

" To the Honble Killyaen K. V. Rensselaer, Esqr,
" In Congress,
" Washington.'*

" Albany, February i, 1802.
" Dear Sir:

" Pardon the liberty I take of Inclosing you a letter for
Mr. Rensselaer. If he should have left Washington to return
to this place, be pleased to send the letter to him under cover
of one of yours.

" The newspapers will advise you of the havoc made by
the late Council of Appointment.

"Mr. Hoffman has resigned the office of Attorney
General, and Mr. Spencer will probably be appointed thereto
to-day.

" I am,
" Dear Sir,

" Your most Obedient Servant,

" Ph. Schuyler."

" Honble Killyaen K, V. Rensselaer, Esqr.
"Sir:

"My Father desires me to beg you will forward the
enclosed letter to Mr. Van Rensselaer if he should have
left Washington before it arrives. He hopes you will
excuse the liberty he takes in giving you this trouble.

" I have the pleasure of assuring you, Sir, that all your
family here are in health. Yours, &c., &c.,

"Catharine VR, Schuyler.
"Albany, 2 2d Jany.'*

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This was the infant rescued by her brave sister
from the tomahawk of the savage at the Schuyler
Mansion.

The following reminiscence, communicated by my
Grandfather in a letter to Jared Sparks, is both
interesting and suggestive :

"Govemeur Morris in the year 1801 was a Senator from
the State of New York in the Senate of the United States.
In the Fall of 1801 he founded a mess at Washington on
Capitol Hill, composed of Six Senators and Six Repre-
sentatives. I had the honor to be one of that mess.

**In the winter of 1802 Mr. Robt. Morris, the old
financier from Philadelphia, came to Washington on a
visit. We unanimously agreed to admit him to join our
mess as a boarder. At this period the subject about remov-
ing the seat of Government, amongst other things, was a
topic of conversation. It was at that time I first heard
Mr. Robt. Morris say that Govnr. Morris wanted to fix the
seat of the Federal Government at New Burgh and New-
Windsor in the Constitution, when the Convention was
framing the same to be submitted to the States. I asked
Mr. R. Morris if a proposition or motion to that effect
had been made in form by Mr. G. Morris? His answer
was, No. The great object, Mr. R. Morris said, was to
agree on a Constitution. The seat of Government was a
secondary consideration: — independent of many weighty
reasons against such a motion^ he added : I deemed it
improper for Govnr. Morris to make it. He was my com-
peer from Pennsylvania as a Delegate. It would have
given great offence to the State, &c. By reasoned raillery
I got him to abandon it. At that time I considered the
idea chimerical and romantic; but I have changed my
mind since, &c. That Govnr. Morris in support of his
opinion urged as an argument the following reasons, to
wit: — ^That New Burgh was the only place near the Atlantic
in the Union, that had cdtnbined with it all the requisites
for the Seat of Government:

" I. Perfect safety in time of war from an attack by an
enemy.

"II. Free access to the Ocean every month in the year
by our shipping — its contiguity, &c.

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"III. Perfect security for Naval and Military arsenals,
&c., added to a large cove or Basin for a Navy Yard to
secure shipping in time of war, &c.

** IV. A large city near it with a spacious harbor and a
thousand facilities to aid the Government in any exigency.

" V. Surrounded by States filled with free men, that
would support and defend the Capital, &c.

"VI. A place that could be approached by water from
all quarters as soon as Lake Erie was tapped and the Canal
was made to the Hudson.

" I have thus, my good sir, in substance stated the above
information as I received it from Mr. Robt. Morris; to
which I beg leave to add that I have (on proper occasions)


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Online LibraryMaunsell Van RensselaerAnnals of the Van Rensselaers in the United States → online text (page 6 of 19)