Slike strani
PDF
ePub

night to Genet, to persuade him to detain her until the President should arrive, intimating that otherwise force would be used to prevent her departure.

Genet flew into one of the transports of passion to which he was prone; contrasted the treatment experienced by him from the officers of government, with the attachment to his nation professed by the people at large; declared that the President was not the sovereign of the country, and had no right, without consulting Congress, to give such instructions as he had issued to the State Governors; threatened to appeal from his decision to the people, and to repel force by force, should an attempt be made to seize the privateer.

Apprised of this menace, Governor Mifflin forthwith ordered out one hundred and twenty of the militia to take possession of the privateer, and communicated the circumstances of the case to the cabinet.

Mr. Jefferson now took the matter in hand, and, on the 7th of July, in an interview with Genet, repeated the request that the privateer be detained until the arrival of the President. Genet, he writes, instantly took up the subject in a very high tone, and went into an immense field of declamation and complaint. Jefferson made a few efforts to be heard, but, finding them ineffectual, suffered the torrent of vituperation to pour on. He sat in silence, therefore, while Genet charged the government with having violated the treaties between the two nations; with having suffered its flag to be insulted and disregarded by the English; who stopped its vessels on the high seas, and took out of them whatever they suspected to be French property. He declared that he had been thwarted and opposed in every thing he had to

1793.1

JEFFERSON'S INTERVIEW WITH GENET. 171

do with the government; so that he sometimes thought of packing up and going away, as he found he could not be useful to his nation in any thing. He censured the executive for the measures it had taken without consulting Congress, and declared that, on the President's return, he would certainly press him to convene that body.

He had by this time exhausted his passion and moderated his tone, and Jefferson took occasion to say a word. "I stopped him," writes he, "at the subject of calling Congress; explained our constitution to him as having divided the functions of government among three different authorities, the executive, legislative, and judiciary, each of which were supreme on all questions belonging to their department, and independent of the others; that all the questions which had arisen between him and us, belonged to the executive department and, if Congress were sitting, could not be carried to them, nor would they take notice of them."

Genet asked with surprise, if Congress were not the sovereign ?

"No," replied Jefferson. They are sovereign only in making laws; the executive is the sovereign in executing them, and the judiciary in construing them, where they relate to that department."

“But at least,” cried Genet, "Congress are bound to see that the treaties are observed." "No," rejoined Jefferson. “There are very few cases, indeed, arising out of treaties, which they can take notice of. The President is to see that treaties are observed."

[ocr errors]

"If he decides against the treaty," demanded Genet, "to whom is a nation to appeal ?" "The con

stitution," replied Jefferson, "has made the President the last appeal."

Genet, perfectly taken aback at finding his own ignorance in the matter, shrugged his shoulders, made a bow, and said, "he would not compliment Mr. Jef ferson on such a constitution! "

He had now subsided into coolness and good humor, and the subject of the Little Sarah being resumed, Jefferson pressed her detention until the President's return; intimating that her previous departure would be considered a very serious offence.

Genet made no promise, but expressed himself very happy to be able to inform Mr. Jefferson that the vessel was not in a state of readiness; she had to change. her position that day, he said, and fall down the river, somewhere about the lower end of the town, for the convenience of taking some things on board, and would not depart yet.

When Jefferson endeavored to extort an assurance that she would await the President's return, he evaded a direct committal, intimating, however, by look and gesture, that she would not be gone before that time. "But let me beseech you," said he, "not to permit any attempt to put men on board of her. She is filled with high-spirited patriots, and they will unquestionably resist. And there is no occasion, for I tell you she will not be ready to depart for some time."

Jefferson was accordingly impressed with the belief that the privateer would remain in the river until the President should decide on her case, and, on communicating this conviction to the Governor, the latter ordered the militia to be dismissed.

THE PRESIDENT'S QUERIES.

173

Hamilton and Knox, on the other hand, were distrustful, and proposed the immediate erection of a battery on Mud Island, with guns mounted to fire at the vessel, and even to sink her, if she attempted to pass. Jefferson, however, refusing to concur in the measure, it was not adopted. The vessel, at that time, was at Gloucester Point, but soon fell down to Chester.

1793.]

Washington arrived at Philadelphia on the 11th of July; when, papers requiring "instant attention" were put into his hands. They related to the case of the Little Sarah, and were from Jefferson, who, being ill with fever, had retired to his seat in the country. Nothing could exceed the displeasure of Washington when he examined these papers.

In a letter written to Jefferson, on the spur of the moment, he puts these indignant queries: "What is to be done in the case of the Little Sarah, now at Chester? Is the minister of the French republic to set the acts of this government at defiance with impunity? And then threaten the executive with an appeal to the people! What must the world think of such conduct, and of the government of the United States in submitting to it?

"These are serious questions. Circumstances press for decision, and, as you have had time to consider them (upon me they come unexpectedly), I wish to know your opinion upon them, even before to-morrow, for the vessel may then be gone."

Mr. Jefferson, in a reply of the same date, informed the President of his having received assurance, that day, from Mr. Genet, that the vessel would not be gone before his (the President's) decision.

In consequence of this assurance of the French

minister, no immediate measures of a coercive nature were taken with regard to the vessel; but, in a cabinet council held the next day, it was determined to detain in port all privateers which had been equipped within the United States by any of the belligerent powers.

No time was lost in communicating this determination to Genet; but, in defiance of it, the vessel sailed on her cruise.

It must have been a severe trial of Washington's spirit to see his authority thus braved and insulted, and to find that the people, notwithstanding the indignity thus offered to their chief magistrate, sided with the aggressors, and exulted in their open defiance of his neutral policy.

About this time a society was formed under the auspices of the French minister, and in imitation of the Jacobin clubs of Paris. It was called the Democratic Society, and soon gave rise to others throughout the Union; all taking the French side in the present questions. The term democrat, thenceforward, began to designate an ultra-republican.

Fresh mortifications awaited Washington, from the distempered state of public sentiment. The trial came on of Gideon Henfield, an American citizen, prosecuted under the advice of the Attorney-General, for having enlisted, at Charleston, on board of a French privateer which had brought prizes into the port of Philadelphia. The populace took part with Henfield. He had enlisted before the proclamation of neutrality had been published, and even if he had enlisted at a later date, was he to be punished for engaging with their ancient ally, France, in the cause of liberty against the royal despots

« PrejšnjaNaprej »