Another cloud of difficulty had gathered, dark and threatening, in the political firmament of our country. For some time a bitter feeling had been growing between the governments of the United States and Great Britain, because of the inexecution of the treaty of 1783. There were mutual accusations of infractions of that treaty. Disputes constantly arising, the bitterness of resentment, daily increased, was largely fostered by the "French party," or Republicans; and in the spring of 1794, war between the two nations seemed probable. The Americans complained that no indemnification had been made for negroes carried away at the close of the Revolution; that the British held military posts on their frontiers, contrary to the treaty; that British emissaries had excited the hostility of the Indian tribes, and that, to retaliate on France, the English had captured our neutral vessels, and impressed our seamen into the British service. The British government and people complained that stipulations concerning the property of loyalists, and also in relation to debts contracted in England before the Revolution, had not been complied with. The property of the Tories who had fled from the country was confiscated, and not much of it was regained. The British government finally paid to these sufferers an aggregate sum of more than fifteen million dollars.
Again the wisdom and prudence of Washington averted the national calamity of war. He proposed to send a special envoy to the British court to negotiate for an amicable settlement of existing disputes. Congress approved the measure, and on the 19th of April, 1994, John Jay was appointed to fulfill that delicate mission. He arrived in London in June, and was very courteously received by the British government. On the 19th of November following, a treaty was concluded which provided for the collection of debts here, by British creditors, contracted before the Revolution, but it did not procure indemnity for those who lost slaves. It secured indemnity for unlawful captures on the high seas, and also the evacuation of military posts on the frontiers yet held by the British. In order to secure some important points, Mr. Jay was compelled to yield others. The treaty was defective in some things, and objectionable in others, but it was the best that could be obtained at that time, and it averted war with Great Britain. It created intense hostility to Washington's administration, and to Jay personally, at home. The proposition to send an envoy to treat with Great Britain had been denounced by the Democratic societies and newspapers as pusillanimous. Now these societies and newspapers which had resolved to oppose it whatever might be its provisions, attacked the treaty, the President and Mr. Jay, with vehemence, on the strength of mere rumor as to its character.
The treaty reached the President in March, 1795, but the Senate was not convened until June to consider it. Meanwhile an unfaithful member of the cabinet (Mr. Randolph of Virginia) revealed enough of its character to warrant attacks upon it. A mad, seditious cry went over the land from the Opposition. In several cities mobs threatened personal violence to the supporters of the treaty. Mr. Hamilton was stoned at a public meeting in New York, while speaking in the open air. "These are hard arguments," he said, when a stone grazed his forehead. The British minister at Philadelphia was insulted; and in Charleston, the British flag was trailed in the dust of the streets. Jay was denounced as a traitor; and in Virginia, disunion was recommended as a cure for existing political evils. "France is our national ally," shouted Democratic societies. "She has a government congenial to our own. Citizens, your security depends on France. Let us unite with France, and stand or fall together," cried factious orators at public meetings held throughout the country; and the Democrats adorned their hats with the French cockade, Jay was burned in effigy in many places, and longings for a guillotine were freely expressed. But the Senate ratified the treaty on the 24th of June, 1795, and removed the seal of secrecy, at the same time forbade the publication of the treaty for prudential reasons, for there were rumors of an important order having been issued by Great Britain. Thomson Mason, a senator from Virginia, in violation of the rules of the Senate, of official decorum, and of personal honor, sent a copy of it to a Democratic newspaper. A rhymer of the day addressed Mr. Mason on the subject, in the following manner:
"Ah, Thomson Mason! long thy fame shall rise, With Democratic incense to the skies! Long shall the world admire thy manly soul, Which scorned the naughty Senate's base control; Come boldly forward with thy mighty name And gave the treaty up for public game!"
The ratification of this treaty was followed in October by the conclusion of one with Spain, by which the boundaries between the Spanish Territories of Louisiana and Florida were defined. This treaty also secured to the United States the free navigation of the Mississippi River, and the use of the port of New Orleans for ten years. Louisiana had been ceded to Spain by the French, in 1762.
As soon as one excitement was allayed in our country, another appeared; and during the whole of Washington's administration of eight years, when the foreign and domestic policy of our government was fashioned and its machinery put in operation, the greatest wisdom, circumspection and conservative action, on the part of government officers, was continually demanded. Difficulties were constantly appearing on the horizon, sometimes like mere specks of clouds in the far distance, and at others near and in alarming shapes. These were chiefly in relation to trade, especially in foreign lands. American commerce had begun to rapidly expand, and had found its way through the open gate at the Pillars of Hercules, into the Mediterranean Sea. There it was met by Moslem corsairs of the Barbary Powers on the northern coast of Africa, who had long and successfully depredated upon commerce in those waters. They seized our merchandise and held our seamen in captivity in order to obtain ransom-money for them. President Washington had called the attention of Congress to these piracies as early as 1790, and at the same time Secretary Jefferson submitted an able report on the subject, in which he gave many interesting details touching the position of American commerce in the Mediterranean Sea. Little, however, could then be done for the protection of our commerce there, for the Americans were without a navy; and for that protection we were dependent, for some time, on the fleets of Portugal, with which nation Algiers, the chief piratical power, was at war. Even this barrier was broken in 1793, secretly, by the British, for the avowed purpose of damaging France. The agent of that government at Algiers concluded a treaty with the Dey, or ruler, in which was a stipulation that the Portuguese government should not for one year afford protection to the commerce of any nation against Algerine cruisers. So these North African pirates were immediately released from all restraint, and roamed the Mediterranean Sea without interruption. The Americans were indignant, but could do nothing. They had already been compelled to endure insults, without the power of resenting them. When Colonel David Humphreys, who was sent by the United States as a commissioner to the Dey of Algiers, that haughty ruler, seated on a divan covered with rich cushions, and his turbaned officers of state standing near, said: "If I were to make peace with everybody, what should I do with my corsairs? what should I do with my soldiers? They would take off my head for the want of other prizes, not being able to live on their miserable allowance." This argument was unanswerable, and Humphreys wrote to his government: "If we mean to have a commerce, we must have a navy to defend it."
These depredations of the pirates and the delicate relations of our rising republic to the monarchies of the Old World caused Washington, in his annual message to Congress in December, 1793, to say: "If we desire to avoid insult, we must be able to repel it; if we desire to secure peace, one of the most powerful instruments of our prosperity, it must be known that we are at all times ready for war." Acting upon this hint Congress passed an act in the spring of 1794, authorizing the creation of a small navy, and appropriating about $700,000. There was strong and determined opposition to the measure, and delay was the consequence. Meanwhile the Algerine pirate fleet, released by the British treaty withdrawing Portuguese protection, had left the bounds of the Mediterranean and were out upon the Atlantic. Within a month after that treaty was made, ten American merchant vessels and over a hundred seamen were captured by the Algerine corsairs. Humphreys tried to make terms with the Dey, but the elated ruler refused to listen. The United States paid about a million dollars as a ransom for American captives, and in the autumn of 1795, our government was compelled to agree, by treaty, to pay an annual tribute to the Dey for the relief of captured seamen, according to long usage among European nations. This was humiliating, but nothing better could then be done. Humanity demanded it. Between the years 1785 and 1793, the Algerine pirates captured fifteen American vessels and made one hundred and eighty officers and seamen slaves of the most revolting kind. To redeem the survivors of these captives and others taken more recently, the United States paid the large sum just mentioned.
Congress, by the act of 1794, had authorized the President to cause the construction of six frigates; but it was provided that work on them should cease, in the event of peace with Algiers being secured. They also provided for the erection of harbor fortifications and the purchase of cannon and artillery munitions for them. Provision was also made for the establishment of arsenals and armories. Very small sums were appropriated for these purposes. These were the first beginnings of our army, navy, and system of fortifications. Washington immediately ordered the keels of he six frigates to be laid at as many ports, namely: Portsmouth, N. H., Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Norfolk. The work was going on vigorously, when the treaty with the Dey of Algiers put a stop to it, and the mercantile marine of the United States lost all hope of protection in the event of a war with any foreign government.
The folly of not completing the naval vessels was soon made manifest, when British cruisers began the practice of taking seamen from American vessels, without leave, under the pretence that they were British deserters. The French, too, were becoming aggressive on the seas. Their government was offended by Washington's proclamation of neutrality, and especially with Jay's treaty with Great Britain. It wanted the Americans to show an active participation with the French, in their hatred of the English. It was offended with the American because of their treaty with Algiers independently of French intervention; and the success of our negotiations with Spain for the free navigation of the Mississippi River, excited the jealousy of the French rulers. In a word, because the United States, having the strength, assumed to stand alone, the French were offended and threatened the grown-up child with personal chastisement. In 1796, cruisers of the French republic began depredations upon American commerce, under the authority of a secret order issued by the French Directory, as the existing government was called. That government had declared the alliance with the Americans at an end. Under the authority of the secret order numerous American vessels were seized in the West Indies. When, in the next year (1797), war with France seemed inevitable, Congress, on the urgent recommendation of the new President (John Adams), caused the frigates Constitution, Constellation, and United States to be completed, equipped, and sent to sea. This was the real beginning of the American navy which, only a few years afterward, though weak in numbers, performed many gallant exploits. From that time the navy became the cherished arm of the national defence; and chiefly through its instrumentality, the name and power of the United States began to be properly appreciated in Europe, at the beginning of the present century.
Return to Our Country, Vol II