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George Washington, Vol. II by Henry Cabot Lodge

Part 2 out of 7

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encouraged and protected bore fruit in this same year in patent and
copyright laws, which became the foundation of our present system. The
same good fortune befell the recommendation for a uniform rule for
naturalization, and the law of 1790 was quietly enacted, no one then
imagining that its alteration less than ten years later was destined
to form part of a policy which, after a fierce struggle, settled
the fate of parties and decided the control of the government. The
post-office was also commended to the care of Congress, and for that,
as for the army, provision was duly made, insufficient at the outset,
but growing steadily from this small beginning, as it was called upon
to meet the spread and increase of population.

Provision was also made gradually, and with much occasional conflict,
for a diplomatic service such as the President advised. But this was
merely the machinery to carry out our foreign policy on which, in a
few years, our political history largely turned, and which will demand
a chapter by itself.

A paragraph devoted to Indian affairs informed Congress that measures
were on foot to establish pacific relations with our savage neighbors,
but that it would be well to be prepared to use force. This brief
sentence was the beginning of an important policy, which, in its
consequences and effects, played a large part in the history of the
next eight years.

These various matters thus disposed of, there remained only the
request to the House to provide for the revenue and the public credit.
From this came Hamilton's financial policy which created parties,
and with it was interwoven in the body of the speech the general
recommendation to make all proper effort for the advancement of
manufactures, commerce, and agriculture.

The speech as a whole, short though it was, drew the outline of
a vigorous system, which aimed at the establishment of a strong
government with enlarged powers. It cut at a blow all ties between the
new government and the feeble strivings of the dead confederation. It
displayed a broad conception of the duties of the government under
the Constitution, and in every paragraph it breathed the spirit of a
robust nationality, calculated to touch the people directly in every
State of the Union.

Before taking up the financial question, which became the great issue
in our domestic affairs, it will be well to trace briefly the story of
our relations with the Indians. The policy of the new administration
in this respect was peculiarly Washington's own, and, although it
affected more or less the general course of events at that period, it
did not directly become the subject of party differences. The "Indian
problem" is still with us, but it is now a very mild problem indeed.
Within a few years, it is true, we have had Indian wars, conducted by
the forces of the United States, and ever-recurring outbreaks between
savages and frontiersmen. But it has been a very distant business. To
the great mass of the American people it has been little more than
interesting news, to be leisurely scanned in the newspaper without
any sense of immediate and personal concern. Moreover, the popular
conception of the Indian has for a long time been wildly inaccurate.
We have known him in various capacities, as the innocent victim of
corrupt agents and traders, and as the brutal robber and murderer with
the vices and force of the Western frontiersman, but without any of
the latter's redeeming virtues. Last and most important of all, we
have known him as the rare hero and the conventional villain of
romance, ranging from the admirable stories of Cooper to the last
production of the "penny dreadful." The result has been to create in
the public mind a being who probably never existed anywhere except in
the popular imagination, and who certainly is not the North American

We are always loath to admit that our conceptions are formed by
fiction, but in the case of people remote from our daily observation
it plays in nine instances out of ten a leading part, and it has
certainly done so here. In this way we have been provided with two
types simple and well defined, which represent the abnormally good on
the one hand and the inconceivably bad on the other. The Indian hero
is a person of phenomenal nobility of character, and of an
ability which would do credit to the training of a highly refined
civilization. He is the product of the orator, the novelist, or the
philanthropist, and has but slight and distant relation to facts. The
usual type, however, and the one which has entered most largely into
the popular mind, is the Indian villain. He is portrayed invariably
as cunning, treacherous, cruel, and cowardly, without any relieving
quality. In this there is of course much truth. As a matter of fact,
Indians are cunning, treacherous, and cruel, but they are also bold
fighters. The leading idea of the Indian that has come down from
Cooper's time, and which depicts him as a "cowardly redskin," unable
to stand for a moment against a white man in fair fight, is a complete
delusion designed to flatter the superior race. It has been in a large
measure dissipated by Parkman's masterly histories, but the ideas born
of popular fiction die hard. They are due in part to the theory that
cruelty implies cowardice, just as we say that a bully must be a
coward, another mistaken bit of proverbial wisdom.

As a matter of fact, the records show that the North American Indian
is one of the most remarkable savage warriors of whom we have any
knowledge; and the number of white men killed for each Indian slain
in war exhibits an astonishing disproportion of loss. Captain James
Smith, for many years a captive, and who figured in most of the
campaigns of the last century, estimated that fifty of our people were
killed to one of theirs. This of course includes women and children;
and yet even in the battle of the Big Kanawha, the Virginia riflemen,
although they defeated the Indians with an inferior force, lost two
to one, and a similar disproportion seems to have continued to the
present day.

The Indian, moreover, not only fought well and to the death, if
surrounded, but he had a discipline and plan of battle which were
most effective for the wilderness. It seems probable that, if the
experiment had been properly tried, the Indians might have been turned
into better soldiers than the famous Sikhs; and the French, who
used the red men skillfully, if without much discipline, found them
formidable and effective allies. They cut off more than one English
and American army, and the fact that they resorted to ambush and
surprise does not detract from their exploits. It was a legitimate
mode of warfare, and was used by them with terrible effect. They have
fought more than one pitched battle against superior numbers when the
victory hung long in the balance, and they have carried on guerrilla
wars for years against overwhelming forces with extraordinary
persistence and success. There is no savage, except the Zulu or Maori,
who has begun to exhibit the natural fighting quality of the American
Indian; and although the Zulu appears to have displayed greater dash,
the Indian, by his mastery of the tactics of surprise, has shown a
far better head. In a word, the Indian has always been a formidable
savage, treacherous, cruel, and cunning to an extreme degree, no
doubt, but a desperate and dogged fighter, with a natural instinct for
war. It must be remembered, too, that he was far more formidable
in 1790 than he is to-day, with the ever-rising tide of civilized
population flowing upon him and hemming him in. When the Constitution
came into being, the Indians were pretty well out of the Atlantic
States, but beyond the Alleghanies all was theirs, and they had the
unbroken wilderness as their ally and their refuge. There they lay
like a dark line on the near frontier, threatening war and pillage
and severe check to the westward advance of our people. They were
a serious matter to a new government, limited in resources and
representing only three millions of people.

Fortunately the President was of all men best fitted to deal with
this grave question, for he knew the Indians thoroughly. His earliest
public service had been to negotiate with them, and from that time on
he had been familiar with them in peace and in diplomacy, while he had
fought with them in war over and over again. He was not in the least
confused in his notions about them, but saw them, as he did most
facts, exactly as they were. He had none of the false sentimentality
about the noble and injured red man, which in later days has been at
times highly mischievous, nor on the other hand did he take the purely
brutal view of the fighting scout or backwoodsman. He knew the Indian
as he was, and understood him as a dangerous, treacherous,
fighting savage. Better than any one else he appreciated
the difficulties of Indian warfare when an army had to be
launched into the wilderness and cut off from a base of supplies.
He was well aware, too, that the western tribes were a constant
temptation to England and Spain on either border, and might be used
against us with terrible effect. In taking up the question for
solution, he believed first, as was his nature, in justice, and he
resolved to push every pacific measure, and strive unremittingly by
fair dealing and binding treaties to keep a peace which was of great
moment to the young republic. But he also felt that pacific measures
were an uncertain reliance, and that sharp, decisive blows were often
the only means of maintaining peace and quiet on the frontier, and
of warding off English and Spanish intrigue. This was the policy he
indicated in the brief sentences of his first speech, and it only
remains to see how he carried it out.

The outlook in regard to the Indians, when Washington assumed the
presidency, was threatening enough. The Continental Congress had shown
in this respect most honorable intention and some vigor, but their
honest purposes had been in large measure thwarted by the action of
the various States, which they were unable to control. In New York
peace reigned, despite some grumbling; for the Six Nations had made a
general treaty, and also two special treaties, not long before, which
were on the whole just and satisfactory. At the same time a general
treaty had been made with the western Indians, which modified some of
the injustices of the treaties of 1785, and which were also fair and
reasonable. In this treaty, however, the tribes of the Wabash were not
included, and they therefore were engaged in war with the Kentucky
people. Those hardy backwoodsmen were quick enough to retaliate, and
they generally proceeded on the simple backwoods principle that tribal
distinctions were futile, and that every Indian was an enemy. This
view, it must be admitted, saved a good deal of thought, but it led
the Kentuckians in their raids to kill many Indians who did not belong
to the Wabash tribes, but to those protected by treaty. The result
of this impartiality was, that, besides the chronic Wabash troubles,
there was every probability that a general war with all the western
and northwestern tribes might break out at any moment.

South of the Ohio, matters were even worse. The Choctaws, it is
true, owing to their distance from our frontier settlements, were on
excellent terms with our government. But the Cherokees had just
been beaten and driven back by Sevier and his followers from the
short-lived state of Franklin, and had taken refuge with the Creeks.
These last were a formidable people. Not only were they good fighters,
but they were also well armed, thanks to their alliance with the
Spaniards, from whom they obtained not only countenance, but guns,
ammunition, and supplies. They were led also by a chief of remarkable
ability, a Scotch half-breed, educated at Charlestown, and named
Alexander McGillivray. With a tribe so constituted and commanded, it
was not difficult to bring on trouble, as soon proved to be the case.
Georgia had claimed and seized certain lands under treaties which she
alleged had been made, whereupon the Creeks denied the validity of
these treaties and went to war, in which they were highly successful.
The Georgians had already asked assistance from their neighbors, and
they now demanded it from the new general government. Thereupon, under
an act of Congress, Washington appointed as commissioners to arrange
the difficulties General Lincoln, Colonel Humphrey, and David Griffin
of Virginia, all remote from the scene of conflict, and all judicious
selections. The Creeks readily met the new commissioners, but when
they found that no lands were to be given up, they declined to treat
further, and said they would await a new negotiation.

Washington attributed this failure, and no doubt correctly, to the
intrigues and influence of Spain. On the day the report of the
commissioners went to Congress, he wrote to Governor Pinckney of South
Carolina: "For my own part I am entirely persuaded that the present
general government will endeavor to lay the foundations for its
proceedings in national justice, faith, and honor. But should the
government, after having attempted in vain every reasonable pacific
measure, be obliged to have recourse to arms for the defense of its
citizens, I am also of opinion that sound policy and good economy will
point to a prompt and decisive effort, rather than to defensive and
lingering operations." "Lingering" had been the curse of our Indian
policy, and it was this above all things that Washington was
determined to be rid of. Whether peace or war, there was to be quick
and decisive action. He therefore, in this spirit, at once sent
southward another commissioner, Colonel Willett, who very shrewdly
succeeded in getting McGillivray and his chiefs to agree to accompany
him to New York. Thither they accordingly came in due time, the Scotch
half-breed and twenty-eight of his chiefs. They were entertained and
well treated at the seat of government, and there, with Knox acting
for the United States, they made a treaty which involved concessions
on both sides. The Creeks gave up all claims to lands north and east
of the Oconee, and the United States, under a recent general act
regulating trade and intercourse with the Indians, gave up all lands
south and west of the same river, and agreed to make the tribes an
annual present. Then Washington gave them wampum and tobacco, and
shook hands with them, and the chiefs went home. There was grumbling
on both sides, especially among the Georgians, but nevertheless the
treaty held for a time at least, and there was peace.

Washington's policy of justice had succeeded, and the Indians got an
idea of the power and fair dealing of the new government, which was of
real value. More valuable still was the lesson to the people of the
United States that this central government meant to deal justly
with the Indians, and would try to prevent any single State from
frustrating by bad faith the policy designed to benefit the whole
country. Trouble soon began again in this direction, and in later days
States inflated with state-right doctrines carried this resistance in
Indian affairs to a much greater extent, and flouted the acts of the
federal government. This, however, does not detract from the wisdom of
the President, who inaugurated the policy of acting justly toward
the Indians, and of overruling the selfish injustice of the State
immediately affected. If the policy of justice and firmness adopted by
Washington had never been abandoned, it would have been better for the
honor and the interest both of the nation and the separate States.

The same pacific policy which had succeeded in the south was tried in
the west and failed. The English, with their usual thoughtfulness,
incited the Indians to claim the Ohio as their boundary, which meant
war and murderous assaults on all our people traveling on the river.
Retaliation, of course, followed, and in April, 1790, Colonel Harmer
with a body of Kentucky militia invaded the Indian country, burned a
deserted village, and returned without having accomplished anything
substantial. The desultory warfare of murder and pillage went on for a
time, and then Washington felt that the moment had come for the other
branch of his policy. At all events there should be no lingering, and
there should be action. Peaceful measures having failed, there should
be war and a settlement in some fashion.

Accordingly, in the fall of 1790, soon after his successful Creek
negotiation, he ordered out some three hundred regulars and eleven
hundred militia from Pennsylvania and Kentucky, and sent them under
Harmer into the Miami country. The expedition burned a village on the
Scioto; and then Colonel Hardin, detached with some hundred and
fifty men in pursuit of the Indians, was caught in an ambush and
his regulars cut off, the militia running away apparently quite
successfully. Thereupon Harmer retreated; but, changing his mind in a
day or two, advanced again, and again sent out Hardin with a larger
force than before. Then the advance was again surprised, and the
regulars nearly all killed, while the militia, who stood their ground
better this time, lost about a hundred men. The end was the repulse
of the whites after a pretty savage fight. Then Harmer withdrew
altogether, declaring, with a strange absence of humor, if of no more
important quality, that he had won a victory. After reaching home,
this mismanaged expedition caused much crimination and heart-burning,
followed by courts-martial on Hardin and Harmer, who were both
acquitted, and by the resignation of the latter.

This defeat of course simply made worse the state of affairs in
general, and the Six Nations, who had hitherto been quiet, became
uneasy and were kept so by the ever-kind incitement of the English.
Various mediations with these powerful tribes failed; but Colonel
Pickering, appointed a special commissioner, managed at last to
appease their discontents. To the southward also the Cherokees began
to move and threaten, but were pacified by the exertions of Governor
Blount of the Southwest Territory. Meantime an act had been passed to
increase the army, and Arthur St. Clair was appointed major-general.
Washington, who had been greatly disturbed by the failure of Harmer,
was both angered and disheartened by the conduct of the States and of
the frontier settlers. "Land-jobbing, the intermeddling of the States,
and the disorderly conduct of the borderers, who were indifferent as
to the killing of an Indian," were in his opinion the great obstacles
in the way of success. Yet these very men who shot Indians at sight
and plundered them of their lands, as well as the States immediately
concerned, were the first to cry out for aid from the general
government when a war, brought about usually by their own violation of
the treaties of the United States, was upon them. On the other hand,
the Indians themselves were warlike and quarrelsome, and they were
spurred on by England and Spain in a way difficult to understand at
the present day.

In all this perplexity, however, one thing was now clear to
Washington. There could not longer be any doubt that the western
troubles must be put down vigorously and by the armed hand. Even while
he was negotiating in the north and south, therefore, he threw himself
heart and soul into the preparation of St. Clair's expedition, pushing
forward all necessary arrangements, and planning the campaign with a
care and foresight made possible by his military ability and by his
experience as an Indian fighter. While the main army was thus
getting ready, two lesser expeditions, one under Scott and one under
Wilkinson, were sent into the Indian country; but beyond burning some
deserted villages and killing a few stray savages both were fruitless.

At last all was ready. St. Clair had an interview with Washington, in
which the whole plan of campaign was gone over, and especial warning
given against ambuscades. He then took his departure at once for the
west, and late in September left Cincinnati with some two thousand
men. The plan of campaign was to build a line of forts, and
accordingly one named Fort Hamilton was erected twenty-four miles
north on the Miami, and then Fort Jefferson was built forty-four miles
north of that point. Thence St. Clair pushed slowly on for twenty-nine
miles until he reached the head-waters of the Wabash. He had been
joined on the march by some Kentucky militia, who were disorderly
and undisciplined. Sixty of them promptly deserted, and it became
necessary to send a regiment after them to prevent their plundering
the baggage trains. At the same time some Chickasaw auxiliaries, with
the true rat instinct, deserted and went home. Nevertheless St. Clair
kept on, and finally reached what proved to be his last camp, with
about fourteen hundred men. The militia were on one side of the
stream, the regulars on the other. At sunrise the next day the
Indians surprised the militia, drove them back on the other camp, and
shattered the first line of the regulars. The second line stood their
ground, and a desperate fight ensued; but it was all in vain. The
Indians charged up to the guns, and, though they were repulsed by the
bayonet, St. Clair, who was ill in his tent, was at last forced to
order a retreat. The retreat soon became a rout, and the broken army,
leaving their artillery and throwing away their arms, fled back to
Fort Jefferson, where they left their wounded, and hurried on to their
starting-point at Fort Washington. It was Braddock over again. General
Butler, the second in command, was killed on the field, while the
total loss reached nine hundred men and fifty-nine officers, and of
these six hundred were killed. The Indians do not appear to have
numbered much more than a thousand. No excuse for such a disaster and
such murderous slaughter is possible, for nothing but the grossest
carelessness could have permitted a surprise of that nature upon
an established camp. The troops, too, were not only surprised, but
apparently utterly unprepared to fight, and the battle was merely a
wild struggle for life.

Washington was above all things a soldier, and his heart was always
with his armies whenever he had one in the field. In this case
particularly he hoped much, for he looked to this powerful expedition
to settle the Indian troubles for a time, and give room for that
great western movement which always was in his thoughts. He therefore
awaited reports from St. Clair with keen anxiety, but in this case
the ill tidings did not attain their proverbial speed. The battle was
fought on November 4, and it was not until the close of a December
day that the officer carrying dispatches from the frontier reached
Philadelphia. He rode at once to the President's house, and Washington
was called out from dinner, where he had company. He remained away
some time, and on returning to the table said nothing as to what
he had heard, talked with every one at Mrs. Washington's reception
afterwards, and gave no sign. Through all the weary evening he was as
calm and courteous as ever. When the last guest had gone he walked up
and down the room for a few minutes and then suddenly broke out:
"It's all over--St. Clair's defeated--routed; the officers nearly all
killed, the men by wholesale; the rout complete--too shocking to think
of--and a surprise into the bargain." He paused and strode up and down
the room; stopped again and burst forth in a torrent of indignant
wrath: "Here on this very spot I took leave of him; I wished him
success and honor; 'You have your instructions,' I said, 'from the
secretary of war; I had a strict eye to them, and will add but one
word--Beware of a surprise! I repeat it--_beware of a surprise_! You
know how the Indians fight us.' He went off with that as my last
solemn warning thrown into his ears. And yet, to suffer that army to
be cut to pieces, hacked, butchered, tomahawked, by a surprise, the
very thing I guarded him against! O God, O God, he's worse than a
murderer! How can he answer it to his country! The blood of the slain
is upon him, the curse of widows and orphans, the curse of Heaven!"

His secretary was appalled and silent, while Washington again strode
fiercely up and down the room. Then he sat down, collected himself,
and said, "This must not go beyond this room." Then a long silence.
Then, "General St. Clair shall have justice. I looked hastily through
the dispatches, saw the whole disaster, but not all the particulars;
I will receive him without displeasure; I will hear him without
prejudice; he shall have full justice." The description of this scene
by an eye-witness has been in print for many years, and yet we find
people who say that Washington was cold of heart and lacking in human
sympathy. What could be more intensely human than this? What a warm
heart is here, and what a lightning glimpse of a passionate nature
bursting through silence into burning speech! Then comes the iron will
which has mastered all the problems of his life. "He shall have full
justice;" and St. Clair had justice. He had been an unfortunate
choice, but as a Revolutionary soldier and governor of the Northwest
Territory his selection had been natural. He had never been a
successful general, for it was not in him to be so. Something he
lacked, energy, decision, foresight, it matters not what. But at least
he was brave. Broken by sickness, he had displayed the utmost personal
courage on that stricken field; and for this Washington would always
forgive much. He received the unfortunate general kindly. He could not
order a court martial, for there were no officers of sufficient rank
to form one; but he gave St. Clair every opportunity for vindication,
and a committee of Congress investigated the campaign and exculpated
the leader. His personal bravery saved him and his reputation, but
nothing can alter the fact that the surprise was unpardonable and the
disaster awful.

Immediate results of the St. Clair defeat were not so bad as might
have been expected. Panic, of course, ran rampant along the frontier,
reaching even to Pittsburg; but the Indians failed to follow up
their advantage, and did not come. Still the alarm was there, and
Pennsylvania and Virginia ordered troops to be raised, while Congress
also took action. Another increase of the army was ordered, with
consequent increase of appropriation, so that this Indian victory
entered at this point into the great current of the financial policy,
and thus played its part in the events on which parties were dividing,
and history was being made.

No matter what happened, however, there was to be neither lingering
nor delay in this business. The President set to work at once to
organize a fresh army, and fight out a settlement of the troubles. His
first thought for a new commander was of Henry Lee of Virginia, but
considerations of rank deterred him. He then selected and appointed
Wayne, who recently had got into politics and been deprived, on a
contested election, of his seat in the House. No little grumbling
ensued over this appointment, especially in Virginia, but it was
unheeded by the President, and its causes now are not very clear.
The event proved the wisdom of the choice, as so often happened with
Washington, and it is easy to see the reason for it. Wayne was one
of the shining figures of our Revolution, appealing strongly to the
imagination of posterity. He was not a great general in the highest
sense, but he was a brilliant corps-commander, capable of daring feats
of arms like the storming of Stony Point. He was capable also of
dashing with heedless courage into desperate places, and incurring
thereby defeat and consequent censure, but escaping entire ruin
through the same quickness of action which had involved him in
trouble. He was well fitted for the bold and rapid movement
required in Indian warfare, and with him Washington put well-chosen
subordinates, selected evidently for their fighting capacity, for he
clearly was determined that this should be at all events a fighting

Wayne, after his appointment, betook himself to Pittsburg, and
proceeded with characteristic energy to raise and organize his army,
a work of no little difficulty because he wished to have picked men.
Washington did all that could be done to help him, and at the same
time pushed negotiations with admirable patience, but with very
varying success. Kirkland brought chiefs of the Six Nations to
Congress with good results, and the Cherokees were pacified by
additional presents. On the other hand, the Creeks were restless,
stirred up always by Spain, and two brave officers, sent to try
for peace with the western tribes, were murdered in cold blood.
Nevertheless, treaties were patched up with some of them, and a great
council was held in the fall of 1792, the Six Nations acting as
mediators, which resulted in a badly kept armistice, but in nothing of
lasting value. The next year Congress passed a general act regulating
trade and intercourse with the Indians, and Washington appointed yet
another commission to visit the northwestern tribes, more to
satisfy public opinion than with any hope of peace. Indeed, these
commissioners never succeeded in even meeting the Indians, who
rejected in advance all proposals which would not concede the Ohio as
the boundary. English influence, it was said, was at the bottom of
this demand, and there seems to be little doubt that such was the
case, for England and France were now at war, and England thereupon
had redoubled her efforts to injure the United States by every sort of
petty outrage both on sea and land. This masterly policy had perhaps
reasons for its existence which pass beyond the average understanding,
but, so far as any one can now discover, it seems to have had no
possible motive except to feed an ancient grudge and drive the country
into the arms of France. Carried on for a long time in secret,
this Indian intrigue came to the surface in a speech made by Lord
Dorchester to the western tribes, in which he prophesied a speedy
rupture with the United States and urged his hearers to continue war.
It is worth remembering that for five years, covertly or openly,
England did her best to keep an Indian war with all that it implied
alive upon our borders,--the borders of a friendly nation with whom
she was at peace.

But while Washington persistently negotiated, he as persistently
prepared to fight, not trusting overmuch either the savages or the
English. Wayne, with similar views, moved his army forward in the
autumn of 1793 to a point six miles beyond Fort Jefferson, and then
went into winter quarters. Early in the spring of 1794 he was in
motion again and advanced to St. Clair's battlefield, where he built
Fort Recovery, and where he was attacked by the Indians, whom he
repulsed after two days' fighting. He then marched in an unexpected
direction and struck the central villages at the junction of the Au
Glaize and Maumee. The surprised savages fled, and Wayne burned their
village, laid waste their extensive fields, and built Fort Defiance.
To the Indians, who had retreated thirty miles down the Maumee to the
shelter of a British post, he sent word that he was ready to treat.
The reply came back asking for a delay of ten days; but Wayne at once
advanced, and found the Indians prepared for battle near the English
fort. The ground was unfavorable, especially for cavalry, but Wayne
made good arrangements and attacked. The Indians gave way before the
bayonet, and were completely routed, the American loss being only one
hundred and seven men. The army was not averse to storming the English
fort; but Wayne, with unusual caution, contented himself with a sharp
correspondence with the commandant, and then withdrew after a most
successful campaign. The next year, strengthened by his victory and by
the surrender of the British posts under the Jay treaty, Wayne made
a treaty with the western tribes by which vast tracts of disputed
territory were ceded to the United States, and peace was established
in that long troubled region.

On the southern frontier there were no such fortunate results. While
Washington was negotiating and fighting in the north and west, all
his patient efforts were frustrated in the south by the conduct of
Georgia. The borderers kept assailing the Indians, peaceful tribes
being generally chosen for the purpose; and the State itself broke
through and disregarded all treaties and all arrangements made by the
United States. The result was constant disquiet and chronic war, with
the usual accompaniments of fire, murder, and pillage.

On the whole, however, when Washington left the presidency, his
Indian policy had been a marked success. In place of uncertainty and
weakness, a definite general system had been adopted. The northern
and western tribes had been beaten and pacified, and the southern
incursions and disorders had been much checked. The British posts, the
most dangerous centres of Indian intrigue, had been abandoned, and the
great regions of the west and northwest had been opened to the tide of
settlement. These results were due to a well-defined plan, and above
all to the persistent vigor which pushed steadily forward to its
object without swinging, as had been done before, between feverish and
often misdirected activity on the one side and complete and
feeble inaction on the other. They were achieved, too, amid many
difficulties, for there was anything but a unanimous support of the
government in its Indian affairs. The opposition grumbled at the
expense, and said that money needlessly raised by taxation was
squandered in Indian wars, while the great body of the people, living
safely along the eastern coast, thought but little about the frontier.
Some persons took the sentimental view and considered the government
barbarous to make causeless war. Others believed that altogether
too much of the public time and money were wasted in looking after
outlying settlements. The borderers themselves, on the other hand,
thought that the general government was in league with the savages,
and broke through treaties, and destroyed so far as they could the
national policy. St. Clair was hissed and jeered as he traveled home,
but a wakeful opposition turned from the unsuccessful general to a
vain attempt to prove that ambushed savages and sleeping sentries were
due to a weak war department and a corrupt and inefficient treasury.
The mass of moderate people, no doubt, desired tranquillity on the
frontier, and sustained the President's labors for that end, but for
the most part they were silent. The voices that Washington heard most
loudly joined in a discordant chorus of disapproval around his Indian
policy. No one understood that here was an important part of a scheme
to build up a nation, to make all the movements of the United States
broad and national, and to open the vast west to the people who were
to make it theirs. Washington heard all the criticism and saw all the
opposition, and still pressed forward to his goal, not attaining all
he wished, but fighting in a very clear and manful spirit, and not
laboring in vain.

The Indian question in its management touched, as has been seen, at
various points our financial policy and our foreign relations, on
which the history of the country really turned in those years. The
latter had not risen to their later importance when the government
began, but the former was knocking importunately at the door of
Congress when it first assembled. The condition of affairs is soon
told. The Revolution narrowly escaped shipwreck on the financial
reefs, and the shaky government of the confederation had there gone to
pieces. The country, as a political organism, was bankrupt. It owed
sums of money, which were vast in amount for those days, both at
home and abroad, and it could not pay these debts, nor was there any
provision for them. All interest was in arrears, there were no means
provided for meeting it, and the national credit everywhere was
dishonored and gone. The continental currency had disappeared, and the
circulating medium was represented by a confused jumble of foreign
coins and worthless scrip. Many of the States were up to their eyes in
schemes of inflation, paper money, and repudiation. There was no money
in the treasury to pay the ordinary charges of government; there was
no revenue and no policy for raising one, or for funding the debt.
This picture is darkly drawn, but it is not exaggerated. That high
spirit of public honor, which seventy-five years later rose above the
ravages of war and the temptings of dishonesty to pay the debt and the
interest, dollar for dollar in gold, seemed in 1789 to be wellnigh
extinct. But it was not dead. It was confused and overclouded in the
minds of the people, but it was still there, and it was strong, clear,
and determined in Washington and those who followed him.

Congress grappled with the financial difficulties in the most
courageous and honest way, but it struggled with them rather
helplessly despite its good disposition. It could lay taxes in one way
or another so as to get money, but this was plainly insufficient. It
could not formulate a coherent policy, which was the one essential
thing, nor could it settle the thousand and one perplexing questions
which hedged the subject on every side. The members turned, therefore,
with a sigh of relief to the new Secretary of the Treasury, asked him
the questions which were troubling them, and having directed him to
make various reports, adjourned.

The result is well known. The great statesman to whom the task was
confided assumed it with the boldness and ease of conscious power,
and when Congress reassembled it listened to the first report on
the public credit. In that great state paper all the confusions
disappeared, and in terse sentences an entire scheme for funding the
debt, disposing of the worthless currency, and raising the necessary
revenue came out clear and distinct, so that all men could comprehend
it. The provision for the foreign debt passed without resistance. That
for the domestic debt excited much debate, and also passed. Last came
the assumption of the state debts, and over that there sprang up
a fierce struggle. It was carried by a narrow majority, and then
defeated by the votes of the North Carolina members, who had just
taken their seats. Washington strongly favored this hotly contested
measure. He defended it in a letter to David Stuart, and again
to Jefferson, at a later time, when that statesman was trying to
undermine Hamilton by wailing about a "corrupt squadron" in Congress.

To Washington, assumption seemed as obviously just as it does to
posterity. All the debts had been incurred in a common cause, he said,
why should they not be cared for by the common government? He had
no patience with the sectional argument that assumption was unfair,
because some States got more out of it than others. Some States had
suffered more than others, but all shared in the freedom that had been
won.[1] He saw in it, moreover, as Hamilton had seen, something far
more important than a mere provision for the debts and for the payment
of money to this community or to that. Assumption was essentially a
union measure. The other debts were incurred by the central government
directly, but the state debts were incurred by the States for a common
cause. If the United States assumed them, it showed to the people and
to the world that there were no state lines when the interests of the
whole country were involved. It was therefore a national measure, a
breeder of national sentiment, a new bond to fasten the States to each
other and to the Union. This was enough to assure Washington's hearty
approval; but the measure was saved and carried finally by the famous
arrangement between Hamilton and Jefferson, which took the capital
to the Potomac and made the war debts of the States a part of the
national debt. Washington was more than satisfied with this solution,
for both sides of the agreement pleased him, and there was nothing in
the compromise which meant sacrifice on his part. He rejoiced in
the successful adoption of the great financial policy of his
administration, and he was much pleased to have the capital, in which
he was intensely interested, placed near to his own Mount Vernon, in
the very region he would have selected if he had had the power of
fixing it.

[Footnote 1: Sparks, _Writings of Washington_, x. 98.]

The next great step in the development of the financial policy was the
establishment of the national bank, and on this there arose another
bitter contest in Congress and in the newspapers. A sharp opposition
had developed by this time, and the supporters of the Secretary of the
Treasury became on their side correspondingly ardent. In this debate
much stress was laid on the constitutional point that Congress had no
power to charter a bank. Nevertheless, the bill passed and went to the
President, with the constitutional doubts following it and pressed
home in this last resort. As has been seen from his letters written
just after the Philadelphia convention, Washington was not a blind
worshiper of the Constitution which he had helped so largely to make;
but he believed it would work, and every day confirmed his belief. He
felt, moreover, that one great element of its lasting success lay
in creating a genuine reverence for it among the people, and it was
therefore of the utmost importance that this reverence should begin
among those to whom the management of the government had been
intrusted. For this reason he exercised a jealous care in everything
touching the organic law of the Union, and he was peculiarly sensitive
to constitutional objections to any given measure. In the case of the
national bank, the objections were strongly as well as vigorously
urged, and Washington paused, before signing, to the utmost limit of
the time allowed. He turned to Jefferson and Randolph, both opposed
to the bill, and asked them for their objections to its
constitutionality. They gave him in response two able reports. These
he sent to Hamilton, who returned them with that most masterly
argument, in which he not only defended the bank charter, but
vindicated, in a manner never afterwards surpassed, the new doctrine
of the implied powers of the Constitution. With both sides thus before
him, Washington considered the question, and signed the bill.

Rives, in his "Life of Madison," intimates that Washington had doubts
even after signing, but of this there is no evidence of any weight. He
was not a man who indulged in doubts after he had made up his mind and
rendered a decision, and it was not in his nature to fret over what
had been done and was past, whether in war or peace. The story that he
was worried about his action in this instance arose from his delay in
signing, and from the disappointment of those who had hoped much
from his hesitation. This pause, however, was both natural and
characteristic. Washington had approved Morris's bank policy in the
Revolution, and remembered the service it rendered. He was familiar
with Hamilton's views on the subject, and knew that they were the
result of long study and careful thought. He must also have known that
any financial policy devised by his Secretary of the Treasury would
contain as an integral part a national bank. There can be no doubt
that both the plan for the bank and the report which embodied it were
submitted to him before they went in to Congress, but the violence of
the objections raised there on constitutional grounds awakened
his attention in a new direction. He saw at once the gravity of a
question, which involved not merely the incorporation of a bank,
but which opened up a new field of constitutional powers and
constitutional construction. When such far-reaching results were
involved he paused and reflected, and, as was always the case with him
under such circumstances, listened to and examined all the arguments
on both sides. This done he decided, and with his national feeling
he could not have decided otherwise than he did. The doctrine of the
implied powers of the Constitution was the greatest weapon possible
for those whose leading thought was to develop the union of States
into a great and imperial nation; and we may well believe that it was
this feeling, and not merely faith in the bank as a financial engine,
which led Washington to sign the bill. When he did so he assented to
the charter of a national bank, but he also assented to the doctrine
of the implied powers and gave to that far-reaching construction of
the Constitution the great weight of his name and character. It was,
perhaps, the most important single act of his presidency.

It is impossible here, even were it necessary, to follow Washington's
action in regard to all the details which went to make up and to
sustain Hamilton's policy, to which, as a whole, Washington gave his
hearty approval and support. The revenue system, the public lands,
the arrangement of loans, the mint, all alike met with his active
concurrence. He was too great a man not to value rightly Hamilton's
work, and the way in which that work brought order, credit, honor, and
prosperity out of a chaos of debt and bankruptcy appealed peculiarly
to his own love for method, organization, and sound business
principles. He met every criticism on Hamilton's policy without
concession, and defended it when it was attacked. To Hamilton's genius
that policy must be credited, but it gained its success and strength
largely from the firm support of Washington.

There are two matters, however, connected with the Treasury
Department, which cannot be passed over in this general way. One was
a policy reasoned out and published by Hamilton, but never during his
lifetime put into the form of law in the broad and systematic manner
which he desired. The other was a consequence of his financial policy
as adopted, but which reached far beyond the bounds of financial
arrangements. The first was the policy set forth in Hamilton's Report
on Manufactures. The second was the enforcement of the excise and its

The defense of our commerce against foreign discriminations was a
proximate cause of the movement which resulted in the Constitution of
the United States, and closely allied to it was the anxious wish to
develop our internal resources and our domestic industry. This idea
was not at all new. Sporadic attempts to start and carry on various
industries had been made during the colonial period. They had all
failed, either because the watchful mother-country took pains to
stifle them, or because lack of capital and experience, in addition to
foreign competition, killed them almost at their birth. The idea of
developing American industries was generally diffused for the
first time when the colonists strove to bring England to terms by
non-intercourse acts. The Americans then thought that they could carry
their points by making war upon the British pocket, and excluding
English merchants from their markets. The next step, of course, was
to supply their own markets themselves; and the non-intercourse
agreements, which were economically prohibitory tariff acts, gave a
fitful impulse to various simple industries. In the clash of arms this
idea naturally dropped out of the popular mind, but it began to revive
soon after the return of peace. The government of the confederation
was too feeble to adopt any policy in this or any other matter, but
in the first Congress the desire to develop American industries found
expression. The first tariff was laid primarily to raise the revenue
so sorely needed at that moment. But the effort to do this gave rise
to a debate in which the policy of protection, strongly advocated by
the Pennsylvanian members, was freely discussed. Nobody, however, at
that time, had any comprehensive plan or general system, so that the
efforts for protection were incoherent, and resulted only in certain
special protective features in the tariff bill, and not in a broad
and well-rounded measure. Still the protective idea was there; it was
recognized in the preamble of the act, and the constitutionality of
the policy was affirmed by the framers and contemporaries of the

Hamilton, of course, watched all these movements intently. His guiding
thought in all things was the creation of a great nation. For this he
strove for national unity and national sentiment, and he saw of course
that one essential condition of national greatness was industrial
independence, in addition to the political independence already won.
One of the greatest thinkers of the time on all matters of public
finance and political economy, he perceived at once that the irregular
attempts of Congress to encourage home industries could have at best
but partial results. He saw that a system broad, just, and continental
in its scope must take the place of the isolated industries which
now and again obtained an uncertain protection under the haphazard
measures of Congress. With these views and purposes he wrote and sent
to Congress his Report on Manufactures. In that great state paper he
made an argument in behalf of protection, as applied to the United
States and to the development of home industries, which has never been
overthrown. The system which he proposed was imperial in its range and
national in its design, like everything that proceeded from Hamilton's
mind. He argued, of course, with reference to existing economic
conditions, and in behalf only of what he then sought,--industrial
independence and the establishment and diversification of industries.
The social side of the question, which to-day overshadows all others,
was not visible a hundred years ago. The Report, however, bore no
immediate fruit, and Hamilton had been in his grave for years before
the country turned from this practice of accidental protection, and
tried to replace it by a broad, coherent system as set forth by the
great Secretary.

But although it had no result at the moment, the Report on
Manufactures, which laid the foundation of the American protective
system, and which has so powerfully influenced American political
thought, was one of the very greatest events of Washington's
administration. To trace its effects and history through the
succeeding century would be wholly out of place here. All that
concerns us is Washington's relation to this far-reaching policy of
his Secretary. If we had not a word or a line on the subject from his
pen, we should still know that the policy of Hamilton was his policy
too, for Washington was the head of his own administration, and was
responsible and meant to be responsible for all its acts and policies.
With his keen foresight he saw the full import of the Report on
Manufactures, and we may be sure that when it went forth it was with
his full and cordial approval, and after that minute consideration
which he gave to all public questions. But we are not left to
inference. We have Washington's views and feelings on this matter set
forth again and again, and they show that the principle of the Report
on Manufactures was as near and dear to him, and as full of meaning,
as it was to Hamilton.

Washington was brought up and had lived all his life under a system
which came as near as possible to the ideal of the modern free-trader.
The people of Virginia were devoted almost entirely to a single
interest, tobacco-growing, that being the occupation in which they
could most profitably engage. No legislative artifices had been
employed to enable them to diversify their industries or to establish
manufactures. They bought in the cheapest market every luxury and
most of the necessities of life. British merchants supplied all their
wants, carried their tobacco, and advanced them money. Cheap labor, a
single staple with wide fluctuations of value, a credit system, entire
dependence on foreigners, and absolute free trade according to the
Manchester theories, should have produced an earthly paradise. As a
matter of fact, the Virginia planters had little ready money and were
deeply in debt. Bankruptcy, as has been already said, seems to have
come to them about once in a generation. The land, rapidly exhausted
by tobacco, was prodigally wasted, and the general prosperity
declined. Washington, with his strong sense and perfect business
methods, personally escaped most of these evils, but he saw the
mischief of the system all the more clearly. It was bad enough in
his time, but he did not live to see Virginia with her wasted and
exhausted lands stand still, while her sister States to the north
passed her with giant strides in the race for wealth and population.
He did not live to see her become, as a result of her colonial system,
a mere breeder of slaves for the plantations of the Gulf States. But
he saw enough, and the lesson taught him by the results of industrial
dependence was well learned.

When the war came and he was carrying the terrible burden of the
Revolution, he learned the same lesson in a new and more bitter way.
Nothing went so near to wreck the American cause as lack of all the
supplies by which war was carried on, for the United States produced
little or nothing of what was then needed. The resources of the
northern colonies were soon exhausted, and the South had none. Powder,
cannon, muskets, clothing, medical stores, all were lacking, and the
fate of the nation hung trembling in the balance on account of the
dependence in which the colonies had been kept by the skillful policy
of England. These were teachings that a lesser man than Washington
would have taken to heart and pondered deeply. In the midst of the
struggle he wrote to James Warren (March 31, 1779): "Let vigorous
measures be adopted, ... to punish speculators, forestallers, and
extortioners, and, above all, to sink the money by heavy taxes,
to promote public and private economy, and _to encourage
manufactures_.[1] Measures of this sort, gone heartily into by the
several States, would strike at once at the root of all our evils,
and give the _coup de grace_ to the British hope of subjugating this
continent either by their arms or their acts."

[Footnote 1: The italics are mine.]

To Lafayette he wrote in 1789: "Though I would not force the
introduction of manufactures by extravagant encouragements and to the
prejudice of agriculture, yet I conceive much might be done in
that way by women, children, and others, without taking one really
necessary hand from tilling the earth. Certain it is, great savings
are already made in many articles of apparel, furniture, and
consumption. Equally certain it is, that no diminution in agriculture
has taken place at this time, when greater and more substantial
improvements in manufactures are making than were ever before known in

In the same year he wrote to Governor Randolph, favoring bounties, the
strongest form of protection; and this encouragement he wished to have
given to that industry which a hundred years later has been held up as
one of the least deserving of all that have received the assistance of
legislation. He said in this letter: "From the original letter, which
I forward herewith, your Excellency will comprehend the nature of a
proposal for introducing and establishing the woolen manufacture
in the State of Virginia. In the present stage of population and
agriculture, I do not pretend to determine how far that plan may be
practicable and advisable; or, in case it should be deemed so, whether
any or what public encouragement ought to be given to facilitate
its execution. _I have, however, no doubt as to the good policy
of increasing the number of sheep in every state_.[1] By a little
legislative encouragement the farmers of Connecticut have, in two
years past, added one hundred thousand to their former stock. If a
greater quantity of wool could be produced, and if the hands which are
often in a manner idle could be employed in manufacturing it, a spirit
of industry might be promoted, a great diminution might be made in
the annual expenses of individual families, and the public would
eventually be exceedingly benefited." The only hesitation is as to the
time of applying the policy. There is no doubt as to the wisdom of the
policy itself, of giving protection and encouragement in every proper
legislative form to domestic industry.

[Footnote 1: The italics are mine.]

In his first speech to Congress he recommended measures for the
advancement of manufactures, having already affixed his signature to
the bill which declared their encouragement to be one of its objects.
At the same time he wrote, in reply to an address: "The promotion
of domestic manufactures will, in my conception, be among the first
consequences which may naturally be expected to flow from an energetic
government." In 1791 he consulted Hamilton as to the advisability of
urging Congress to offer bounties for the culture of cotton and hemp,
his only doubts being as to the power of the general government in
this respect, and as to the temper of the time in regard to such an
expenditure of public money. The following year Hamilton's Report
on Manufactures was given to the country, finally establishing the
position of the administration as to our economic policy.

The general drift of legislation, although it was not systematized,
followed the direction pointed out by the administration. But this did
not satisfy Washington. In his speech to Congress, December 7, 1796,
he said: "Congress has repeatedly, and not without success, directed
their attention to the encouragement of manufactures. _The object is
of too much consequence not to insure a continuance of their efforts
in every way which shall appear eligible._"[1] He then goes on to
argue at some length that, although manufacturing on the public
account is usually inexpedient, it should be established and carried
on to supply all that was needed for the public force in time of war.
This was his last address to Congress, and his last word on this
matter was to approve the course of Congress in following the
recommendation of his first speech. All his utterances and all his
opinions on the subject were uniform. Washington had never been a
student of public finance or political economy like Hamilton, and he
lived before the days of the Manchester school and its new gospel
of procuring heaven on earth by special methods of transacting the
country's business. But Washington was a great man, a state-builder
who fought wars and founded governments. He knew that nations were
raised up and made great and efficient, and that civilization was
advanced, not by _laissez aller_ and _laissez faire_, but by much
patient human striving. He had fought and conquered, and again he had
fought and been defeated, and through all he had come to victory, and
to certain conclusive results both in peace and war. He had not done
this by sitting still and letting each man go his way, but by strong
brain and strong will, and by much organization and compulsion. He had
set his hand to the building of a nation. He had studied his country
and understood it, and with calm, far-seeing eyes he had looked
forward into the future of his people. Neither the study nor the
outlook were vain, and both told him that political independence
was only part of the work, and that national sentiment, independent
thinking, and industrial independence also must be reached. The
first two, time alone could bring. The last, wise laws could help
to produce; and so he favored protection by legislation to American
industry and manufactures, threw all his potent influence into the
scale, and gave his support to the protective policy set forth by his

[Footnote 1: The italics are mine.]

Two matters connected with the treasury, I have said, deserved
fuller consideration than a general review could give. The one just
described, the policy of the Report on Manufactures, came, as has been
seen, to no clear and immediate result. The other reached a very
sharp and definite conclusion, not without great effect on the new
government of the United States, both at the moment and in the future.
When Hamilton "struck the rock of the national resources," the stream
of revenue which he sought at the outset was that flowing from duties
on imports, for this, in his theory, was not only the first source,
but the best. He would fain have had it the only one; but the
situation drove him forward. The assumption of the state debts, a
part of the legacy of the Revolution, and the continuing and at first
increasing expenses of unavoidable Indian wars, made additional
revenue absolutely essential. He turned therefore to the excise on
domestic spirits to furnish what was needed.

Washington approved assumption. It was a measure of honesty, it would
raise the public credit, and above all, it was thoroughly national in
its operation and results. The appropriations for Indian wars he of
course approved, for their energetic prosecution was part of the
vigorous policy toward our wild neighbors upon which he was so
determined. It followed, of course, that he did not shrink from
imposing the taxes thus made necessary; and to raise the money from
domestic spirits seemed to him, under the existing exigency, to be
what it was,--thoroughly proper and reasonable both in form and

It would seem, however, that neither Washington nor Hamilton realized
the unpopularity of this mode of getting revenue. The frontier
settlers along the line of the Alleghanies in Pennsylvania, Virginia,
and North Carolina, who distilled whiskey, were not very familiar,
perhaps, with Johnson's dictionary, but they would have cordially
accepted his definition of an excise. To them it was indeed a "hateful
tax," and nothing else. In fact, the word was one disliked throughout
the States, for it brought up evil memories, and excited much jealous
hostility and prejudice. The first excise law, therefore, when it went
into force, was the signal for a general outburst of opposition; and
in the Alleghany region, as might have been expected, the resistance
was immediate and most bitter. State legislatures passed resolutions,
public meetings were held and more resolutions were passed, while
in the wilder parts of the country threats of violence were freely
uttered. All these murmurings and menaces came on the passage of the
first bill in 1791. The administration, however, had no desire to
precipitate an uncalled-for strife, and so the law was softened and
amended in the following year, the tax being lowered and the most
obnoxious features removed. The result was general acquiescence
throughout most of the States, and renewed opposition in the western
counties of Pennsylvania and North Carolina. In the former a meeting
was held denouncing the law, pledging the people to "boycott" the
officers, and hinting at forcible resistance. If the people engaged in
this business had stopped to consider the men with whom they had
to deal, they would have been saved a great deal of suffering and
humiliation. The President and his Secretary of the Treasury were not
men who could be frightened by opposition or violent speeches. But
angry frontiersmen, stirred up by demagogues, are not given to much
reflection, and they meant to have their own way.

Washington was quite clear in his policy from the beginning. He was
ready to make every proper concession, but when this was done he meant
on his side to have his own way, which was the way of law and order
and good government. He wrote to Hamilton in August, 1792: "If, after
these regulations are in operation, opposition to the due exercise of
the collection is still experienced, and peaceable procedure is no
longer effectual, the public interests and my duty will make it
necessary to enforce the laws respecting this matter; and however
disagreeable this would be to me, it must nevertheless take place."

Meantime the disorders went on, and the officers were insulted and
thwarted in the execution of their duty. Washington's next letter
(September 7) has a touch of anger. He hated disorder and riot
anywhere, but he was disgusted when they came from the very people for
whose defense the Indian war was pushed and the excise made necessary.
He approved of Hamilton's sending out an officer to examine into the
survey, and said: "If, notwithstanding, opposition is still given to
the due execution of the law, I have no hesitation in declaring, if
the evidence of it is clear and unequivocal, that I shall, however
reluctantly I exercise them, exert all the legal powers with which the
executive is invested to check so daring and unwarrantable a spirit.
It is my duty to see the laws executed. To permit them to be trampled
upon with impunity would be repugnant to it; nor can the government
longer remain a passive spectator of the contempt with which they are
treated. Forbearance, under a hope that the inhabitants of that
survey would recover from the delirium and folly into which they
were plunged, seems to have had no other effect than to increase the

A few weeks later he issued a proclamation, declaring formally and
publicly what he had already said in private. He warned the people
engaged in resistance to the law that the law would be enforced, and
exhorted them to desist. The proclamation was effective in the south,
and the opposition died out in North Carolina. Not so in Pennsylvania.
There the Scotch-Irish borderers who lived in the western counties
were bent on having their way. A brave, self-willed, hotheaded,
turbulent people, they were going to have their fight out. They
had ridden rough-shod over the Quaker and German government in
Pennsylvania before this, and they no doubt thought they could do the
same with this new government of the United States. They merely made a
mistake about the man at the head of the government; nothing more than
that. Such mistakes have been made before. The Paris mob, for example,
made a similar blunder on the 13th Vendemiaire, when Bonaparte settled
matters by the famous whiff of grape-shot. There is some excuse for
the error of our Scotch-Irish borderers in their past experience, more
excuse still in the drift of other events that touched all men just
then with the madness of France, and gave birth to certain democratic
societies which applauded any resistance to law, even if the cause was
no nobler than a whiskey still.

Perhaps, too, the Pennsylvanians were encouraged by the moderation
and deliberate movement of the government. A lull came after the
proclamation of 1792. Then every effort was made to settle the
troubles by civil processes and by personal negotiation, but all
proved vain. The disturbances went on increasing for two years, until
law was at an end in the insurgent counties. The mails were stopped
and robbed, there were violence, bloodshed, rioting, attacks on the
officers of the United States, and meetings threatening still worse

Meanwhile Washington had waited and watched, and bided his time. He
felt now that the moment had come when, if ever, public opinion must
be with him, and that the hour had arrived when he must put his
fortune to the touch, and "try if it were current gold indeed." On
August 7 he issued a second proclamation, setting forth the outrages
committed, and announcing his power to call out the militia, and his
intention to do so if unconditional submission did not follow at once.
As he wrote to a friend three days later: "Actual rebellion exists
against the laws of the United States." On the crucial point, however,
he felt safe. He was confident that all the public opinion worth
having was now on his side, and that the people were ready to stand by
the government. The quick and unconditional submission did not come,
and on September 25 he issued a third proclamation, reciting the facts
and calling out the militia of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and

Washington had judged rightly. The States responded, and the troops
came to the number of fifteen thousand, for he was in the habit of
doing things thoroughly, and meant to have an overwhelming force.
To Governor Lee of Virginia the command of the combined forces was
intrusted. "I am perfectly in sentiment with you, that the
business we are drawn out upon should be effectually executed,
and that the daring and factious spirit which threatens to
overturn the laws and to subvert the Constitution ought to be
subdued." Thus he wrote to Morgan, while the commissioners from the
insurgents were politely received, and told that the march of the
troops could not be countermanded. Washington would fain have gone
himself, in command of the army, but he felt that he could not leave
the seat of government for so long a time with propriety. He went as
far as Bedford with the troops, and then parted from them. When he
took leave, he wrote a letter to Lee, to be read to the army, in which
he said: "No citizen of the United States can ever be engaged in a
service more important to their country. It is nothing less than to
consolidate and to preserve the blessings of that revolution which
at much expense of blood and treasure constituted us a free and
independent nation." Thus admonished, the army marched, Hamilton going
with them in characteristic fashion to the end. They did their work
thoroughly. The insurrection disappeared, and resistance dropped
suddenly out of sight. The Scotch-Irish of the border, with all their
love of fighting, found too late that they were dealing with a power
very different from that of their own State. The ringleaders of the
insurrection were arrested and tried by civil process, the disorders
ceased, law reigned once more, and the "hateful tax" was duly paid and

The "Whiskey Rebellion" has never received due weight in the history
of the United States. Its story has been told in the utmost detail,
but its details are unimportant. As a fact, however, it is full of
meaning, and this meaning has been too much overlooked. That this
should be so, is not to be wondered at, for everything has conspired
to make it seem, after a century has gone by, both mean and trivial.
Its very name suggests ridicule and contempt, and it collapsed so
utterly that people laughed at it and despised it. Its leaders, with
the exception of Gallatin, were cheap and talkative persons of
little worth, and the cause itself was neither noble, romantic, nor
inspiriting. Nevertheless, it was a dangerous and formidable business,
for it was the first direct challenge to the new government. It was
the first clear utterance of the stern question asked of every people
striving to live as a nation, Have you a right to live? Have you a
government able to fight and to endure? Have you men ready to take up
the challenge? These questions were put by rough frontier settlers,
and put in the name and for the sake of distilling whiskey unvexed by
law. But they were there, they had to be answered, and on the reply
the existence of the government was at stake. If it failed, all was
over. If the States did not respond to this first demand, that they
should put down disorder and dissension within the borders of one of
their number, the experiment had failed. It came, as it almost always
does come, to one man to make the answer. That man took up the
challenge. He did not move too soon. He waited with unerring judgment,
as Lincoln waited with the Proclamation of Emancipation, until he had
gathered public opinion behind him by his firmness and moderation.
Then he struck, and struck so hard that the whole fabric of
insurrection and riot fell helplessly to pieces, and wiseacres looked
on and laughed, and thought it had been but a slight matter after all.
The action of the government vindicated the right of the United States
to live, because they had proved themselves able to keep order. It
showed to the American people that their government was a reality
of force and power. If it had gone wrong, the history of the United
States would not have differed widely from that of the confederation.
No mistake was made, and people regarded the whole thing as an
insignificant incident, and historians treat it as an episode. There
could be no greater tribute to the strong and silent man who did the
work and bore the stress of waiting for nearly five years. He did his
duty so well and so completely that it seems nothing now, and yet the
crushing of that insurrection in the western counties of Pennsylvania
was one of the turning-points in a nation's life.



Our present relations with foreign nations fill as a rule but a slight
place in American politics, and excite generally only a languid
interest, not nearly so much as their importance deserves. We have
separated ourselves so completely from the affairs of other people
that it is difficult to realize how commanding and disproportionate a
place they occupied when the government was founded. We were then a
new nation, and our attitude toward the rest of the world was wholly
undefined. There was, therefore, among the American people much
anxiety to discover what that attitude would be, for the unknown is
always full of interest. Moreover, Europe was still our neighbor, for
England, France, and Spain were all upon our borders, and had large
territorial interests in the northern half of the New World. Within
fifteen years we had been colonies, and all our politics, except those
which were purely local and provincial, had been the politics of
Europe; for during the eighteenth century we had been drawn into and
had played a part in every European complication, and every European
war in which England had the slightest share. Thus the American people
came to consider themselves a part of the European system, and looked
to Europe for their politics, which was a habit of thought both
natural and congenial to colonists. We ceased to be colonists when
the Treaty of Paris was signed; but treaties, although they settle
boundaries and divide nations, do not change customs and habits of
thought by a few strokes of the pen. The free and independent people
of the United States, as there has already been occasion to point out,
when they set out to govern themselves under their new Constitution,
were still dominated by colonial ideas and prejudices. They felt,
no doubt, that the new system would put them in a more respectable
attitude toward the other nations of the earth. But this was probably
the only definite popular notion on the subject. What our actual
relations with other nations should be, was something wholly vague,
and very varying ideas were entertained about it by communities and
by individuals, according to their various prejudices, opinions, and

The one idea, however, that the American people did not have on this
subject was, that they should hold themselves entirely aloof from the
politics of the Old World, and have with other nations outside the
Americas no relations except those born of commerce. It had not
occurred to them that they should march steadily forward on a course
which would drive out European governments, and sever the connections
of those governments with the North American continent. After a
century's familiarity, this policy looks so simple and obvious that
it is difficult to believe that our forefathers could even have
considered any other seriously; but in 1789 it was so strange that no
one dreamed of it, except perhaps a few thinkers speculating on the
future of the infant nation. It was something so novel that when
it was propounded it struck the people like a sudden shock of
electricity. It was so broad, so national, so thoroughly American,
that men still struggling in the fetters of colonial thought could not
comprehend it. But there was one man to whom it was neither strange
nor speculative. To Washington it was not a vague idea, but a
well-defined system, which he had been long maturing in his mind.

Before he had been chosen President, he wrote to Sir Edward Newenham:
"I hope the United States of America will be able to keep disengaged
from the labyrinth of European politics and wars; and that before long
they will, by the adoption of a good national government, have become
respectable in the eyes of the world, so that none of the maritime
powers, especially none of those who hold possessions in the New
World or the West Indies, shall presume to treat them with insult or
contempt. It should be the policy of the United States to administer
to their wants without being engaged in their quarrels. And it is
not in the power of the proudest and most polite people on earth to
prevent us from becoming a great, a respectable, and a commercial
nation if we shall continue united and faithful to ourselves." This
plain statement shows his fixed belief that in an absolute breaking
with the political affairs of other peoples lay the most important
part of the work which was to make us a nation in spirit and in truth.
He carried this belief with him when he took up the Presidency, and it
was the chief burden of the last words of counsel which he gave to his
countrymen when he retired to private life. To have begun and carried
on to a firm establishment this policy of a separation from Europe
would have required time, skill, and patience even under the calmest
and most favorable conditions. But it was the fate of the new
government to be born just on the eve of the French Revolution. The
United States were at once caught up and tossed by the waves of that
terrific storm, and it was in the midst of that awful hurly-burly,
when the misdeeds of centuries of wrong-doing were brought to an
account, that Washington opened and developed his foreign policy. It
was a great task, and the manner of its performance deserves much and
serious consideration.

His first act in foreign affairs, on entering the Presidency, was to
make the minister of France understand that the government of the
United States was to be treated with due formality and respect.
His second was to examine the whole mass of foreign correspondence
collected in the State Department of the confederation, and he did
this, as has been said, pencil in hand, making notes and abstracts as
he went. It was well worth doing, for he learned much, and from this
laborious study and thorough knowledge certain facts became apparent,
for the most part of a hard and unpleasant nature. First, he saw that
England, taking advantage of our failure to fulfill completely our
obligations under the treaty, had openly violated hers, and continued
to hold the fortified posts along the northwestern and western
borders. Here was a dangerous thorn which pricked sharply, for the
posts in British hands offered constant temptations to Indian risings,
and threatened war both with the savages and with Great Britain.
Further west still, Spain held the Mississippi, closed navigation,
and intrigued to separate our western settlers from the Union. No
immediate danger lay here, but still peril and need of close watching,
for the Mississippi was never to slip out of our power. The mighty
river and the great region through which it flows were important
features in that empire which Washington foresaw. His plan was that we
should get them by binding the settlers beyond the Alleghanies to the
old States with roads, canals, and trade, and then trust to those
hardy pioneers to keep the river and its valley for themselves and
their country. All that was needed for this were time, and vigilant
firmness with Spain.

Beyond the sea were the West India Islands, the home of a commerce
long carried on by the colonies and of much profit to them, especially
to those of New England. This trade was now hampered by England, and
was soon to be still further blocked, and thereby become the cause of
much bickering and ill-will.

Across the ocean we maintained with the Barbary States the relations
usual between brigands and victims, and we tried to make treaties with
them, and really paid tribute to them, as was the fashion in dealing
with those pirates at that period. With Holland, Sweden, and Prussia
we had commercial treaties, and the Dutch sent a minister to the
United States. With France alone were our relations close. She had
been our ally, and we had formed with her a treaty of alliance and a
treaty of commerce, as well as a consular convention, which we were at
this time engaged in revising. To most of the nations of the world,
however, we were simply an unknown quantity, an unconsidered trifle.
The only people who really knew anything about us were the English,
with whom we had fought, and from whom we had separated; the French,
who had helped us to win our independence; and the Dutch, from whom
we had borrowed money. Even these nations, with so many reasons for
intelligent and profitable interest in the new republic, failed, not
unnaturally, to see the possibilities shut up in the wild American

To the young nation just starting thus unnoticed and unheeded,
Washington believed that honorable peace was essential, if a firm
establishment of the new government, and of a respectable and
respected position in the eyes of the world, was ever to be attained;
and it was toward England, therefore, as the source of most probable
trouble, that Washington turned to begin his foreign policy. The
return of John Adams had left us without a minister at London,
and England had sent no representative to the United States. The
President, therefore, authorized Gouverneur Morris, who was going
abroad on private business, to sound the English government informally
as to an exchange of ministers, the complete execution of the treaty
of peace, and the negotiation of a commercial treaty. The mission was
one of inquiry, and was born of good and generous feelings as well as
of broad and wise views of public policy. "It is in my opinion very
important," he wrote to Morris, "that we avoid errors in our system of
policy respecting Great Britain; and this can only be done by forming
a right judgment of their disposition and views."

What was the response to these fair and sensible suggestions? On the
first point the assent was ready enough; but on the other two, which
looked to the carrying out of the treaty and the making of a treaty of
commerce, there was no satisfaction. Morris, who was as high-spirited
as he was able, was irritated by the indifference and hardly concealed
insolence shown to him and his business. It was the fit beginning of
the conduct by which England for nearly a century has succeeded in
alienating the good-will of the people of the United States. Such a
policy was neither generous nor intelligent, and politically
it was a gross blunder. Washington, however, was too great
a man to be disturbed by the bad temper and narrow ideas
of English ministers. After his fashion he persevered in
what he knew to be right and for his country's interest, and in due
time a diplomatic representation was established, while later still,
in the midst of difficulties of which he little dreamed at the outset,
he carried through a treaty that removed the existing grievances. In a
word, he kept the peace, and it lasted long enough to give the United
States the breathing space they so much needed at the beginning of
their history.

The greatest perils in our foreign relations came, as it happened,
from another quarter, where peace seemed most secure, and where no man
looked for trouble. The government of the United States and the French
revolution began almost together, and it is one of the strangest facts
of history that the nation which helped so powerfully to give freedom
to America brought the results of that freedom into the gravest peril
by its own struggle for liberty. When the great movement in France
began, it was hailed in this country with general applause, and with a
sympathy as hearty as it was genuine, for every one felt that France
was now to gain all the blessings of free government with which
America was familiar. Our glorious example, it was clear, was destined
to change the world, and monarchies and despotisms were to disappear.
There was to be a new political birth for all the nations, and the
reign of peace and good-will was to come at once upon the earth at
the hands of liberated peoples freely governing themselves. It was a
natural delusion, and a kindly one. History, in the modern sense, was
still unwritten, and men did not then understand that the force and
character of a revolution are determined by the duration and intensity
of the tyranny and misgovernment which have preceded and caused it.
The vast benefit destined to flow from the French revolution was to
come many years after all those who saw it begin were in their graves,
but at the moment it was expected to arrive immediately, and in a form
widely different from that which, in the slow process of time, it
ultimately assumed. Moreover, Americans did not realize that the
well-ordered liberty of the English-speaking race was something
unknown and inconceivable to the French.

There were a few Americans who were never deceived for a moment, even
by their hopes. Hamilton, who "divined Europe," as Talleyrand said,
and Gouverneur Morris, studying the situation on the spot with keen
and practical observation, soon apprehended the truth, while others
more or less quickly followed in their wake. But Washington, whom no
one ever credited with divination, and who never crossed the Atlantic,
saw the realities of the thing sooner, and looked more deeply into the
future than anybody else. No man lived more loyal than he, or more
true to the duties of gratitude; but he looked upon the world of facts
with vision never dimmed nor dazzled, and watched in silence, while
others slept and dreamed. Let us follow his letters for a moment. In
October, 1789, in the first flush of hope and sympathy, he wrote to
Morris: "The revolution which has been effected in France is of so
wonderful a nature that the mind can hardly realize the fact. If it
ends as our last accounts to the first of August predict, that nation
will be the most powerful and happy in Europe; but I fear though it
has gone triumphantly through the first paroxysm, it is not the last
it has to encounter before matters are finally settled. In a word,
the revolution is of too great magnitude to be effected in so short
a space, and with the loss of so little blood.... To forbear running
from one extreme to another is no easy matter; and should this be the
case, rocks and shelves, not visible at present, may wreck the vessel,
and give a higher-toned despotism than the one which existed before."

Seven years afterwards, reviewing his opinions in respect to France,
he wrote to Pickering: "My conduct in public and private life, as it
relates to the important struggle in which the latter is engaged, has
been uniform from the commencement of it, and may be summed up in a
few words: that I have always wished well to the French revolution;
that I have always given it as my decided opinion that no nation had a
right to intermeddle in the internal concerns of another; that every
one had a right to form and adopt whatever government they liked best
to live under themselves; and that if this country could, consistently
with its engagements, maintain a strict neutrality and thereby
preserve peace, it was bound to do so by motives of policy, interest,
and every other consideration that ought to actuate a people situated
as we are, already deeply in debt, and in a convalescent state from
the struggle we have been engaged in ourselves."

Thus prepared, Washington waited and saw his cautious predictions
verified, and the revolution rush headlong from one extreme to
another. He also saw the flames spread beyond the borders of France,
changing and dividing public opinion everywhere; and he knew it was
only a question of time how soon the new nation, at whose head he
stood, would be affected. Histories and biographies which treat of
that period, as a rule convey the idea that the foreign policy of our
first administration dealt with the complications that arose as they
came upon us. Nothing could be further from the truth, for the general
policy was matured at the outset, as has been seen in the letter to
Newenham, and the occasions for its application were sure to come
sooner or later, in one form or another. Washington was not surprised
by the presence of the perils that he feared, and danger only made
him more set on carrying out the policy upon which he had long since
determined. In July, 1791, he wrote to Morris: "I trust we shall never
so far lose sight of our own interest and happiness as to become
unnecessarily a party to these political disputes. Our local situation
enables us to maintain that state with respect to them which otherwise
could not, perhaps, be preserved by human wisdom." He followed this up
with a strong and concise argument as to the advantage and necessity
of this policy, showing a complete grasp of the subject, which came
from long and patient thought.

All his firmness and knowledge were needed, for the position was most
trying. With every ship that brought news of the extraordinary doings
in Europe, the applause which greeted the early uprisings of Paris
grew less general. The wise, the prudent, the conservative, cooled
gradually at first, and then more quickly in their admiration of the
French; but in the beginning, this deepening and increasing hostility
to the revolution kept silence. It was popular to be the friend of
France, and highly unpopular to be anything else. But when excesses
multiplied and blood flowed, when religion tottered and the
foundations of society were shaken, this silence was broken.
Discussion took the place of harmonious congratulation, and it soon
became apparent that there was to be a sharp and bitter division of
public opinion, growing out of the affairs of France. It was necessary
for the government to maintain a friendly yet cautious attitude toward
our former ally, and not endanger the stability of the Union and the
dignity of the country by giving to the French sympathizers any good
ground for accusing them of ingratitude, or of lukewarmness toward
the cause of human rights. That a time would soon come when decisive
action must be taken, Washington saw plainly enough; and when that
moment arrived, the risk of fierce party divisions on a question of
foreign politics could not be avoided. Meantime domestic bitterness on
these matters was to be repressed and delayed, and yet in so doing
no step was to be taken which would involve the country in any
inconsistency, or compel a change of position when the crisis was
actually reached. The policy of separating the United States from all
foreign politics is usually dated from what is called the neutrality
proclamation; but the theory, as has been pointed out, was clear and
well defined in Washington's mind when he entered upon the presidency.
The outlines were marked out and pursued in practice long before the
outbreak of war between France and England put his system to the
touch. In everything he said or wrote, whether in public or private,
his tone toward France was so friendly that her most zealous supporter
could not take offense, and at the same time it was so absolutely
guarded that the country was committed to nothing which could hamper
it in the future. The course of the administration as a whole, and its
substantive acts as well, were in harmony with the tone of expression
used by the President; for Washington, it may be repeated, was the
head of his own administration, a fact which the biographers of the
very able men who surrounded him are too prone to overlook. In this
case he was not only the leader, but the work was peculiarly his own,
and a few extracts from his letters will show the completeness of his
policy and the firmness with which he followed it whenever occasion

To Lafayette he wrote in July, 1791, a letter full of sympathy, but
with an undertone of warning none the less significant because it was
veiled. Coming to a point where there was an intimation of trouble
between the two countries, he said: "The decrees of the National
Assembly respecting our tobacco and oil do not appear to be very
pleasing to the people of this country; but I do not presume that any
hasty measures will be adopted in consequence thereof; for we have
never entertained a doubt of the friendly disposition of the French
nation toward us, and are therefore persuaded that, if they have done
anything which seems to bear hard upon us at a time when the Assembly
must have been occupied in very important matters, and which, perhaps,
would not allow time for a due consideration of the subject, they will
in the moment of calm deliberation alter it and do what is right."

[Illustration: LAFAYETTE]

The unfriendly act was noted, so that Lafayette would understand that
no tame submission was intended, and yet no resentment was expressed.
The same tone can be noticed in a widely different direction.
Washington foresaw that the troubles in France, sooner or later, would
involve her in war with England. The United States, as the former
allies of the French, were certain to attract the attention of the
mother country, and so he watched on that side also with equal
caution. England, if possible, was to be made to understand that the
American policy was not dictated by anything but the interests and the
dignity of the United States, and their resolve to hold aloof from
European complications. In June, 1792, he wrote to Morris: "One thing,
however, I must not pass over in silence, lest you should infer from
it that Mr. D. had authority for reporting that the United States had
asked the mediation of Great Britain to bring about a peace between
them and the Indians. You may be fully assured, sir, that such
mediation never was asked, that the asking of it never was in
contemplation, and I think I might go further and say that it not only
never will be asked, but would be rejected if offered. The United
States will never have occasion, I hope, to ask for the interposition
of that power, or any other, to establish peace within their own

Here is again the same note, always so true and clear, that the United
States are not colonies but an independent nation. So far as it was in
the power of the President, this was something which should be heard
by all men, even at the risk of much reiteration. It was a fact not
understood at home and not recognized abroad, but Washington proposed
to insist upon it so far as in him lay, until it was both understood
and admitted.

Meantime the flames were ever spreading from Paris, consuming and
threatening to consume the heaped up rubbish of centuries, and also
burning up many other more valuable things, as is the way with great
fires when they get beyond control. Many persons were interested in
the things of worth now threatened with destruction, and many others
in the rubbish and the tyrannous abuses. It was clear that war of a
wide and far-reaching kind could not be long put off. In March, 1793,
Washington wrote: "All our late accounts from Europe hold up the
expectation of a general war in that quarter. For the sake of
humanity, I hope such an event will not take place. But if it should,
I trust that we shall have too just a sense of our own interest to
originate any cause that may involve us in it."

Even while he wrote, the general war that he anticipated, the war
between France and England, had come. The news reached him at Mount
Vernon, and in the letter to Jefferson announcing his immediate
departure for Philadelphia he said: "War having actually commenced
between France and Great Britain, it behooves the government of this
country to use every means in its power to prevent the citizens
thereof from embroiling us with either of those powers, by endeavoring
to maintain a strict neutrality. I therefore require that you will
give the subject mature consideration, that such measures as shall be
deemed most likely to effect this desirable purpose may be adopted
without delay." These instructions were written on April 12, and on
the 18th Washington was in Philadelphia, and had sent out a series
of questions to be considered by his cabinet and answered on the
following day. After much discussion, it was unanimously agreed
to issue a proclamation of neutrality, to receive the new French
minister, and not to convene Congress in extra session. The remaining
questions were put over for further consideration.

Hamilton framed the questions, say the historians; Randolph drafted
the proclamation, says his biographer, in a very instructive and fresh
discussion of the relations between the Secretary of State and the
Attorney-General. It is interesting to know what share the President's
advisers took when he consulted them on this momentous question, but
the leading idea was his own. When the moment came, the policy long
meditated and matured was put in force. The world was told that a new
power had come into being, which meant to hold aloof from Europe,
and which took no interest in the balance of power or the fate of
dynasties, but looked only to the welfare of its own people and to the
conquest and mastery of a continent as its allotted tasks. The policy
declared by the proclamation was purely American in its conception,
and severed the colonial tradition at a stroke. In the din then
prevailing among civilized men, it was but little heeded, and even at
home it was almost totally misunderstood; yet nevertheless it did
its work. For twenty-five years afterward the American people slowly
advanced toward the ground then taken, until the ideas of the
neutrality proclamation received their final acceptance and extension
at the hands of the younger Adams, in the promulgation of the Monroe
doctrine. The shaping of this policy which was then launched was
a great work of far-sighted and native statesmanship, and it was
preeminently the work of the President himself.

Moreover, it did not stop here. A circular to the officers of the
customs provided for securing notice of infractions of the law, and
the task of enforcing the principles laid down in the proclamation
began. As it happened, the theory of neutrality was destined at once
to receive rude tests of its soundness in practice. The new French
minister was landing on our shores, and beginning his brief career in
this country, while the proclamation was going from town to town and
telling the people, in sharp and unaccustomed tones, that they were
Americans and not colonists, and must govern themselves accordingly.

Everything, in fact, seemed to conspire to make the path of the new
policy rough and thorny. In the excitement of the time a large portion
of the population regarded it as a party measure aimed against our
beloved allies, while, to make the situation worse, France on one
side and England on the other proceeded, as if deliberately, to do
everything in their power to render neutrality impossible, and to
drive us into war with some one.

The new minister, Genet, could not have been better chosen, if the
special errand for which he had been employed had been to make
trouble. Light-headed and vain, with but little ability and a vast
store of unintelligent zeal, the whirl of the French revolution flung
him on our shores, where he had a glorious chance for mischief. This
opportunity he at once seized. As soon as he landed he proceeded to
arm privateers at Charleston. Thence he took his way north, and the
enthusiastic popular acclaim which everywhere greeted his arrival
almost crazed him, and drew forth a series of high-flown and most
injudicious speeches. By the time he reached Philadelphia, and before
he had presented his credentials, he had induced enough violations of
neutrality, and sown the seeds of enough trouble, to embarrass our
government for months to come.

Washington had written to Governor Lee on May 6: "I foresaw in the
moment information of that event (the war) came to me, the necessity
for announcing the disposition of this country towards the belligerent
powers, and the propriety of restraining, as far as a proclamation
would do it, our citizens from taking part in that contest.... The
affairs of France would seem to me to be in the highest paroxysm of
disorder; not so much from the presence of foreign enemies, for in
the cause of liberty this ought to be fuel to the fire of a patriot
soldier and to increase his ardor, but because those in whose hands
the government is intrusted are ready to tear each other to pieces,
and will more than probably prove the worst foes the country has."

He easily foresaw the moment of trial, when he would be forced to
the declaration of his policy, which was so momentous for the United
States, and he also understood the condition of affairs at Paris, and
the probable tendencies and proximate results of the Revolution. It
was evident that the great social convulsion had brought forth men of
genius and force, and had maddened them with the lust of blood and
power. But it was less easy to foresee, what was equally natural, that
the revolution would also throw to the surface men who had neither
genius nor force, but who were as wild and dangerous as their betters.
No one, surely, could have been prepared to meet in the person of the
minister of a great nation such a feather-headed mischief-maker as

In everything relating to France Washington had observed the utmost
caution, and his friendliness had been all the more marked because he
had felt obliged to be guarded. He had exercised this care even in
personal matters, and had refrained, so far as possible, from seeing
the _emigres_ who had begun to come to this country. Such men as the
Vicomte de Noailles had been referred to the State Department, and in
many cases the maintenance of this attitude had tried his feelings
severely, for the exiles were not infrequently men who had fought or
sympathized with us in our day of conflict. Now came the new minister
of the republic, a being apparently devoid of training or manners.
Before he had been received, or had appeared at the seat of
government, before he had even taken possession of his predecessor's
papers, he had behaved in a way which would not have been
inappropriate to a Roman governor of a conquered province. He had
ordered the French consuls to act as admiralty courts, he had armed
cruisers, enlisted and commissioned American citizens, and had seen
the vessels of a power with which the United States were at peace
captured in American waters, and condemned in the States by French
consular courts. Three weeks before Genet's audience Jefferson had a
memorial from the British minister, justly complaining of the injuries
done his country under cover of our flag; and while the government was
considering this pleasant incident, Genet was faring gayly northward,
feted and caressed, cheered and applauded, the subject of ovations
and receptions everywhere. At Philadelphia he was received by a
great concourse of citizens, called together by the guns of the very
privateer that had violated our neutrality, and led by provincial
persons, who thought it fine to name themselves "citizen" Smith and
"citizen" Brown, because that particular folly was the fashion in
France. A day was passed in receiving addresses, and then Genet was
presented to the President.

A stranger contrast could not easily have been found even in that
strange time, and two men more utterly unlike probably never faced
each other as representatives of two great nations. In the difference
between them the philosopher may find, perhaps, some explanation of
the difference in the character and results of the revolutions which
came so near together in the two countries. Nothing, moreover, could
well be conceived more distasteful to Washington than the Frenchman's
conduct except the Frenchman himself. There was about the man and his
performances everything most calculated to bring one of those gusts of
passionate contempt which now and again had made things unpleasant
for some one who had failed in sense, decency, and duty. This was
impossible to a President, but nevertheless his self-restraint from
the beginning to the end of his intercourse with Genet was very
remarkable in a man of his temperament. At their first interview his
demeanor may have been a little colder than usual, and the dignified
reserve somewhat more marked, but there was no trace of any feeling.
His manner, nevertheless, chilled Genet and came upon him like a
cold bath after the warm atmosphere of popular plaudits and turgid
addresses. He went away grumbling, and complained that he had seen
medallions of the Capets on the walls of the President's room.

But although Washington was calm and polite, he was also watchful and
prepared, as he had good reason to be, for Genet immediately began,
in addition to his wild public utterances, to pour in notes upon the
State Department. He demanded money; he announced in florid style the
opening of the French ports; he wrote that he was ready to make a
new treaty; and finally he filed an answer to the complaints of the
British minister. His arguments were wretched, but they seemed to
weigh with Jefferson, although not with the President; and meantime
the dragon's teeth which he had plentifully sown began to come up and
bear an abundant harvest. More prizes were made by his cruisers, and
after many remonstrances one was ordered away, and two Americans whom
Genet had enlisted were indicted. Genet declared that this was an act
which his pen almost refused to state; but still it was done, and the
administration pushed on and ordered the seizure of privateers fitting
in American ports. Governor Clinton made a good beginning with one at
New York, and in hot haste Genet wrote another note more furious and
impertinent than any he had yet sent. He was answered civilly, and the
work of stopping the sale of prizes went on.

Meantime the opposition were not idle. The French sympathizers
bestirred themselves, and attacks began to be made even on the
President himself. The popular noise and clamor were all against the
administration, but the support of it was really growing stronger,
although the President and his secretaries could not see it.
Jefferson, on whom the conduct of foreign affairs rested, was uneasy
and wavering. He wrote able letters, as he was directed, but held, it
is to be feared, quite different language in his conversations with
Genet. Randolph argued and hesitated, while Hamilton, backed by Knox,
was filled with wrath and wished more decisive measures. Still, as we
look at it now across a century, we can observe that the policy went
calmly forward, consistent and unchecked. The French minister was held
back, privateers were stopped, the English minister's complaints were
answered, every effort was made for exact justice, and neutrality was
preserved. It was hard and trying work, especially to a man of strong
temper and fighting propensities. Still it was done, and toward the
end of June Washington went for a little rest to Mount Vernon.

Then came a sudden explosion. One July morning the rumor ran through
Philadelphia that the Little Sarah, a prize of the French man-of-war,
was fitting out as a privateer. The reaction in favor of the
administration was beginning, and men, indignant at the proceeding,
carried the news to Governor Mifflin, and also to the Secretary
of State. Great disturbance of mind thereupon ensued to these two
gentlemen, who were both much interested in France and the rights of
man. The brig would not sail before the arrival of the President, said
the Secretary of State. Still the arming went on apace, and then came
movements on the part of the governor. Dallas, Secretary of State for
Pennsylvania, went at midnight to expostulate with Genet, who burst
into a passion, and declared that the vessel should sail. This
defiance roused the governor, and a company of militia marched to
the vessel and took possession. Greatly excited, Jefferson went next
morning to Genet, who very honestly declined to promise to detain the
vessel, but said that she would not be ready to sail until Wednesday.
This announcement, which was distinctly not a promise, the Secretary
of State chose to accept as such, and as he was very far from being
a fool, he did so either from timidity, or from a very unworthy
political preference for another nation's interests to the dignity of
his own country. At all events, he had the troops withdrawn, and the
Little Sarah, now rejoicing in the name of the Petit Democrat,
dropped down to Chester. Hamilton and Knox, being neither afraid nor
un-American, were for putting a battery on Mud Island and sinking
the privateer if she attempted to go by. Great saving of trouble and
bloodshed would have been accomplished by the setting up of this
battery and the sinking of this vessel, for it would have informed the
world that though the United States were weak and young, they were
ready nevertheless to fight as a nation, a fact which we subsequently
were obliged to prove by a three years' war.

Jefferson, however, opposed decisive measures, and while the cabinet
wrangled, Washington, hurrying back from Mount Vernon, reached
Philadelphia. He was full of just anger at what had been done and left
undone. Jefferson, feeling uneasy, had gone to the country, where he
was fond of making a retreat at unpleasant moments, and Washington at
once wrote him a letter, which could not have been very agreeable
to the discoverer of diplomatic promises in a refusal to give any.
"What," said the President, "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?" Then came a demand for an immediate

To the tender feelings of the Secretary of State, who had not been
considering the affair from an American standpoint, this must have
seemed a violent and almost a coarse way of treating the "great
republic," and he replied that the French minister had assured him
that the vessel would not sail until the President reached a decision.
Having got the vessel to Chester, however, by telling the truth, Genet
now changed his tack. He lied about detaining her, and she went to
sea. This performance filled the cup of Washington's disgust almost to
overflowing, for he had what Jefferson seems to have totally lost at
this juncture--a keen national feeling, and it was touched to the
quick. The truth was, that in all this business Jefferson was thinking
too much of France and of the cause of human liberty in Paris, while
Washington thought of the United States alone. The result was
the escape of the vessel, owing to Washington's absence, and the
consequent humiliation to the government. To refrain from ordering
Genet out of the country at once required a strong effort of
self-control; but he wished to keep the peace as long as possible, and
he proposed to get rid of him speedily but decorously. He resolved
also that no more such outrages should be committed through his
absence, and the consequent differences among his advisers. He
continued, of course, to consult his cabinet, but he took the
immediate control, more definitely even than before, into his own
hands. On July 25 he wrote to Jefferson, whose vigor at this critical
time he evidently doubted: "As the letter of the minister of the
Republic of France, dated the 22d of June, lies yet unanswered, and
as the official conduct of that gentleman, relative to the affairs of
this government, will have to undergo a very serious consideration,
... in order to decide upon measures proper to be taken thereupon, it
is my desire that all the letters to and from that minister may
be ready to be laid before me, the heads of departments, and the
attorney-general, whom I shall advise with on the occasion." He also
saw to it that better precautions should be taken by the officers of
the customs to prevent similar attempts to break neutrality, and set
the administration and the laws of the country at defiance.

The cabinet consultations soon bore good fruit, and Genet's recall
was determined on during the first days of August. There was some
discussion over the manner of requesting the recall, but the terms
were made gentle by Jefferson, to the disgust of the Secretary of the
Treasury and the Secretary of War, who desired direct methods and
stronger language. As finally toned up and agreed upon by the
President and cabinet, the document was sufficiently vigorous to annoy
Genet, and led to bitter reproaches addressed to his friend in the
State Department. Then there was question about publishing the
correspondence, and again Jefferson intervened in behalf of mildness.
The substantive fact, however, was settled, and the letter asking
Genet's recall, as desired by Washington, went in due time, and in the
following February came a successor. Genet, however, did not go back
to his native land, for he preferred to remain here and save his head,
valueless as that article would seem to have been. He spent the rest
of his days in America, married, harmless, and quite obscure. His
noise and fireworks were soon over, and one wonders now how he could
ever have made as much flare and explosion as he did.

But even while his recall was being decided, before he knew of it
himself, and long before his successor came, Genet's folly produced
more trouble than ever, and his insolence rose to a higher pitch. The
arming of privateers had been checked, but the consuls continued to
arrogate powers which no self-respecting nation could permit, and for
some gross offense Washington revoked the _exequatur_ of Duplaine,
consul at Boston. An insolent note from Genet thereupon declared that
the President had overstepped his authority, and that he should appeal
to the sovereign State of Massachusetts. Next there was riot and the
attempted murder of a man from St. Domingo who was accused by the
refugees. Then it began to get abroad that Genet had threatened to
appeal from the President to the people, and frantic denials ensued
from all the opposition press; whereupon a card appeared from John Jay
and Rufus King, which stated that they were authority for the story
and believed it. Apologies now took the place of denial, and were
backed by ferocious attacks on the signers of the card. Unluckily,
intelligent people seemed to put faith in Jay and King rather than in
the opposition newspapers, and the tide, which had turned some time
before, now ran faster every moment against the French. To make it
flow with overwhelming force and rapidity was reserved for Genet
himself, who was furious at the Jay card, and wrote to the President,
demanding a denial of the statement which it contained. A cool note
informed him that the President did not consider it proper or material
to make denials, and pointed out to him that he must address his
communications to the State Department. This correspondence was
published, and the mass of the people were at last aroused, and turned
from Genet in disgust. The leaders tried vainly to separate the
minister from his country, and Genet himself frothed and foamed,
demanded that Randolph should sue Jay and King for libel, and declared
that America was no longer free. This sad statement had little effect.
Washington had triumphed completely, and without haste but with
perfect firmness had brought the people round to his side as that of
the national dignity and honor.

The victory had been won at no little cost to Washington himself in
the way of self-control. He had been irritated and angered at every
step, so much so that he even referred in a letter to Richard Henry
Lee to the trial of temper to which he had been put, a bit of personal
allusion in which he rarely indulged. "The specimens you have seen,"
he wrote, "of Mr. Genet's sentiments and conduct in the gazettes form
a small part only of the aggregate. But you can judge from them to
what test the temper of the executive has been put in its various
transactions with this gentleman. It is probable that the whole will
be exhibited to public view in the course of the next session of
Congress. Delicacy towards his nation has restrained the doing of
it hitherto. The best that can be said of this agent is, that he is
entirely unfit for the mission on which he is employed; unless (which
I hope is not the case), contrary to the express and unequivocal
declaration of his country made through himself, it is meant to
involve ours in all the horrors of a European war."

But there was another side to the neutrality question even more full
of difficulties and unpopularity, which began to open just as the
worst of the contests with Genet was being brought to a successful
close. Genet had not confined his efforts to the seaboard, nor been
content with civic banquets, privateers, rioting, and insolent notes
to the government. He had fitted out ships, and he intended also to
levy armies. With this end in view he had sent his agents through the
south and west to raise men in order to invade the Floridas on the
one hand and seize New Orleans on the other. To conceive of such a
performance by a foreign minister on the soil of the United States,
requires an effort of the imagination to-day almost equal to that
which would be necessary for an acceptance of the reality of the
Arabian nights. It brings home with startling clearness not merely the
crazy insolence of Genet, but a painful sense of the manner in which
we were regarded by the nations of Europe. Still worse is the fact
that they had good reason for their view. The imbecility of the
confederation had bred contempt, and it was now seen that we were
still so wholly provincial that a large part of the people was not
only ready to condone but even to defend the conduct of the minister
who engaged in such work. Worst of all, the people among whom the
French agents went received their propositions with much pleasure. In
South Carolina, where it was said five thousand men had been enlisted,
there was sufficient self-respect to stop the precious scheme. The
assembly arrested certain persons and ordered an inquiry, which
came to nothing; but the effect of their action was sufficient. In
Kentucky, on the other hand, the authorities would not interfere. The
people there were always quite ready for a march against New Orleans,
and that it did not proceed was due to Genet's inability to get money;
for the governor declined to meddle, and the democratic society of
Lexington demanded war. Matters looked so serious that the cavalry was
sent to Kentucky, and the rest of the army wintered in Ohio. It was
actually necessary to teach the American people by the presence of the
troops of the United States that they must not enroll themselves in
the army of a foreign minister.

Nothing can show more strikingly than this the almost inconceivable
difficulties with which the President was contending. To develop a
policy of wise and dignified neutrality, and to impress it upon the
world, was a great enough task in itself. But Washington was obliged
to impress it also upon his own people, and to teach them that they
must have a policy of their own toward other nations. He had to carry
this through in the teeth of an opposition so utterly colonial that
it could not grasp the idea of having any policy but that which, from
sympathy or hate, they took from foreigners. Beyond the mountains, he
had to bring this home to men to whom American nationality was such a
dead letter that they were willing to defy their own government,
throw off their allegiance, and enlist for an offensive war under the
banners of a crazy French Girondist. It is neither easy nor pleasant
to carry out a new foreign policy in time of general war, with one's
own people united in its support; but when the foreign divisions are
repeated at home, the task is enhanced in difficulty a thousand-fold.
Nevertheless, there was the work to do, and the President faced it. He
dealt with Genet, he prevailed in public opinion on the seaboard, and
in some fashion he maintained order west of the mountains.

Washington also saw, as we can see now very plainly, that, wrong and
unpatriotic as the Kentucky attitude was, there was still an excuse
for it. Those bold pioneers, to whom the country owes so much, had
very substantial grievances. They knew nothing of the laws of nations,
and did not yet realize that they had a country and a nationality; but
they had the instincts of all great conquering races. They looked upon
the Mississippi and felt that it was of right theirs, and that it must
belong to the vast empire which they were winning from the wilderness.
They saw the mighty river held and controlled by Spaniards, and they
were harassed and interfered with by Spanish officials, whom they both
hated and despised. To men of their mould and training there was but
one solution conceivable. They must fight the Spaniard, and drive him
from the land forever. Their purposes were quite right, but their
methods were faulty. Washington, born to a life of adventure and
backwoods conquest, had a good deal of real sympathy with these men,
for he knew them to be in the main right, and his ultimate purposes
were the same as theirs. But he had a nation in his charge to whom
peace was precious. To have the backwoodsmen of Kentucky go down the
river and harry the Spaniards out of the country, as their descendants
afterwards harried the Mexicans out of Texas, would have been a
refreshing sight, but it would have interfered sadly with the nation
which was rising on the Atlantic seaboard, and of which Kentucky was a
part. War was to be avoided, and above all a war into which we should
have been dragged as the vassal of France; so Washington intended to
wait, and he managed to make the Kentuckians wait too, a process by no
means agreeable to that enterprising people.

His own policy about the Mississippi, which has already been
described, never wavered. He meant to have the great river, for his
ideas of the empire of the future were quite as extended as those of
the pioneers, and much more definite, but his way of getting it was
to build up the Atlantic States and bind them, with their established
resources, to the settlers over the mountains. This done, time would
do the rest; and the sequel showed that he was right. A little more
than a year after he came to the presidency he wrote to Lafayette:
"Gradually recovering from the distresses in which the war left us,
patiently advancing in our task of civil government, unentangled in
the crooked politics of Europe, _wanting scarcely anything but the
free navigation of the Mississippi, which we must have, and as
certainly shall have, if we remain a nation_,"[1] etc.

[Footnote 1: The italics are mine.]

Time and peace, sufficient for the up-building of the nation, that is
the theme everywhere. Yet he knew that a sacrifice of everything for
peace was the surest road both to war and ruin. Peace must be kept;
yet war was still the last resort, and he was ready to go to war with
the Spaniards, as with the Indians, if all else failed. But he did
not mean to have all else fail, nor did he mean to submit to Spanish
insolence and exactions. The grievances of the pioneers of the West
were to be removed, if possible, by treaty, and if that way was
impossible, then by fighting.

Carmichael, who had been minister at Madrid under the confederation,
had been continued there by the new government. But while the
intrigues of Spain to detach Kentucky, and the interference and
exactions of Spanish officials, went on, our negotiation for the
settlement of our rights to the navigation of the Mississippi halted.
Tired of this inaction, Washington, late in 1791, united William
Short, our minister to Holland, in a commission with Carmichael, to
open a fresh and special negotiation as to the Mississippi, and at
the same time a confidential agent was sent to Florida to seek some
arrangements with the governor as to fugitive slaves, a matter of
burning interest to the planters on the border. The joint commission
bore no fruit, and the troubles in the West increased. Fostered by
Genet, they came near bringing on war and detaching the western
settlements from the Union, so that it was clearly necessary to take
more vigorous measures.

Accordingly, in 1794, after Genet had been dismissed, Washington sent
Thomas Pinckney, who for some years had been minister in London, on
a special treaty-making mission to Madrid. The first results were
vexatious and unpromising enough, and Pinckney wrote at the outset
that he had had two interviews with the Duke de Alcudia, but to no
purpose. It was the old game of delay, he said, with inquiries as to
why we had not replied to propositions, which in fact never had been
made. Even what Pinckney wrote, unsatisfactory as it was, could not be
wholly made out, for some passages were in a cipher to which the State
Department had no key. Washington wrote to Pickering, then acting as

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