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RESTITUTION OF CAPTURED VESSELS.
The British minister demanded a restitution of the prize, and the cabinet were unanimously of opinion that restitution should be made; nor was there any difficulty with the French minister on this head; but restitution was likewise claimed of other vessels captured on the high seas, and brought into port by the privateers authorized by Genet. In regard to these there was a difference of sentiment in the cabinet. Hamilton and Knox were of opinion that the government should interpose to restore the prizes; it being the duty of a neutral nation to remedy any injury sustained by armaments fitted out in its ports. Jefferson and Randolph contended that the case should be left to the decision of the courts of justice. If the courts adjudged the commissions issued by Genet to be invalid, they would, of course, decide the captures made under them to be void, and the property to remain in the original owners; if, on the other hand, the legal right to the property had been transferred to the captors, they would so decide.
Seeing this difference of opinion in the cabinet, Washington reserved the point for further deliberation; but directed the Secretary of State to communicate to the ministers of France and Britain, the principles in which they concurred; these being considered as settled. Circular letters, also, were addressed to the Governors of several States, requiring their co-operation, with force, if necessary, to carry out the rules agreed upon.
Genet took umbrage at these decisions of the government, and expressed his dissatisfaction in a letter, complaining of them as violations of natural right, and subversive of the existing treaties between the two nations. His letter, though somewhat wanting in strict decorum of language, induced a review of the subject in the cabinet; and he was informed that no reason appeared for changing the system adopted. He was further informed that in the opinion of the executive, the vessels which had been illegally equipped, should depart from the ports of the United States.
Genet was not disposed to acquiesce in these decisions. He was aware of the grateful feelings of the nation to France: of the popular disposition to go all lengths short of war, in her favor ; of the popular idea, that republican interests were identical on both sides of the Atlantic; that a royal triumph over republicanism in Europe, would be followed by a combination to destroy it in this country. He had heard the clamor among the populace, and uttered in Freneau's Gazette and other newspapers, against the policy of neutrality; the people, he thought, were with him, if Washington was not, and he believed the latter would not dare to risk his popularity in thwarting their enthusiasm. He persisted, therefore, in disregarding the decisions of the government, and spoke of them as a departure from the obligations it owed to France; a cowardly abandonment of friends when danger menaced.
Another event added to the irritation of Genet. Two American citizens, whom he had engaged at Charleston, to cruise in the service of France, were arrested on board of the privateer, conducted to prison, and prosecutions commenced against them. The indignant feelings of Genet were vented in an extraordinary letter to the Secretary of State. When speaking
1791.) GENET DEMANDS RELEASE OF PRISONERS.
of their arrest, " The crime laid to their charge,” writes he" the crime which my mind cannot conceive, and which my pen almost refuses to state—is the serving of France, and defending with her children, the common glorious cause of liberty.
Being ignorant of any positive law or treaty, which deprives Americans of this privilege and authorizes officers of police, arbitrarily to take mariners in the service of France, from on board of their vessels, I call upon your intervention, sir, and that of the President of the United States, in order to obtain the immediate releasement of the above-mentioned officers, who have acquired, by the sentiments animating them, and by the act of their engagement, anterior to any act to the contrary, the right of French citizens, if they have lost that of American citizens."
The lofty and indignant tone of this letter had no effect in shaking the determination of government, or obtaining the release of the prisoners. Washington confesses, however, that he was very much hurried and perplexed by the “disputes, memorials, and what not,". with which he was pestered, by one or other of the powers at war.
It was a sore trial of his equanimity, his impartiality, and his discrimination, and wore upon his spirits and his health. « The President is not well, writes Jefferson to Madison (June 9th); “little lingering fevers have been hanging about him for a week or ten days, and affected his looks most remarkably. He is also extremely affected by the attacks made and kept up on him, in the public papers. I think he feels these things more than any other person I ever yet met with. I am sincerely sorry to see them."
Jefferson's sorrow was hardly in accordance with the resolution expressed by him, to retain Freneau in his office, notwithstanding his incessant attacks upon the President and the measures of his government. Washington might well feel sensitive to these attacks, which Jefferson acknowledges were the more mischievous, from being planted on popular ground, on the universal love of the people to France and its cause.
But he was not to be deterred by personal considerations, from the strict line of his duty. He was aware that, in withstanding the public infatuation in regard to France, he was putting an unparalleled popularity at hazard ; but he put it at hazard without hesitation; and, in so doing, set a magnanimous example for his successors in office to endeavor to follow.
WASHINGTON CALLED TO MOUNT VERNON-THE CASE OF THE LITTLE
SARAH COMES UP IN HIS ABSENCE-GOVERNOR MIFFLIN DETERMINED
TO PREVENT HER DEPARTURE-RAGE OF GENET-JEFFERSON URGES DETENTION OF THE PRIVATEER UNTIL THE PRESIDENT'S RETURN
EVASIVE ASSURANCE OF GENET-DISTRUST OF HAMILTON AND KNOX
-WASHINGTON RETURNS TO PHILADELPHIA-A OABINET COUNCIL
ITS DETERMINATION COMMUNICATED TO GENET-THE VESSEL SAILS
IN DEFIANCE OF IT-FORMATION OF THE DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY
THE RECALL OF GENET DETERMINED ON-THE RIBALD LAMPOONWASHINGTON'S OUTBURST.
In the latter part of July, Washington was suddenly called to Mount Vernon by the death of Mr. Whiting, the manager of his estates. During his brief absence from the seat of government, occurred the case of the LITTLE SARAH. This was a British merchant vessel which had been captured by a French privateer, and brought into Philadelphia, where she had been armed and equipped for privateering; manned with one hundred and twenty men, many of them Americans, and her name changed into that of Le Petit Democrat. This, of course, was in violation of Washington's decision, which had been communicated to Genet.
General Mifflin, now Governor of Pennsylvania, being informed, on the 6th of July, that the vessel was to sail the next day, sent his secretary, Mr. Dallas, at mid