Gambar halaman
PDF
ePub

"There will be found at p. 148, of this volume of the Register, å sketch of the debate held in Congress in the month of January last, concerning the captors of André; and in p. 237, the complete vindication of these respectable men from the aspersions so unadvisedly cast upon them. For all who feel as I do on this subject, the controversy will give additional zest to that part of the work of M. de Marbois, in which he has occasion to introduce Paulding, Williams, and Van Wart. Relying on the public sense of the importance of the service, of the benefit of the example, of the beauty of the trait, of the deference due to the unanimous opinion of the Revolutionary Congress and army, M. de Marbois does not hesitate to assert, “ that the families " of the captors of André are held in veneration, and that their " names will be celebrated and cherished in all after ages.”

I trust that he is right, notwithstanding the ungracious and impolitic attempt of a member of the House of Representatives, to wrest from them their titles never before questioned, to the gratitude and respect of the nation. There was a prescription in their favour, I might say in favour of the country, that reaped so much honour from their act, which no American at least, should have allowed himself to disturb. If the world and ourselves had laboured under a delusion, it involved so just an exemplification of the character of the American yeoman, and so persuasive a moral for the humbler walks of life, it furnished so ornamental a page for the national annals, that it should not have been dispelled but upon some motive much higher than a small saving to the treasury.

Could General Washington and all those eminent personages who concurred with him in stamping Vincit amor patriæ upon the medal, have, with their opportunities of knowledge, mistaken the nature of the case? Or, would they have gone so far in the celebration and recompense, if they had entertained a suspicion akin with the suggestions hazarded in the late Congress? Would they have made so heavy a sacrifice of truth and justice to the policy of the moment, when they could have been so easily detected in the imposition and defeated in their end? As the captors of André did refuse his watch and purse, and secure his person, it could be no more than conjecture on his part, when he stated, that the result would have been different had he had '. more to give, or some guaranty to offer. And what weight can reasonably be attached to a conjecture of the sort, under such circumstances. The deplorable situation to which he saw himself reduced by their inflexibility, must have embittered his feelings towards them, and warped his judgment as to their dispositions. We ought instantly to reject the representations of a man tortured by the contrast which they had produced in his fortunes, and who, in all likelihood, shared largely at the same time, in the contempt and antipathy which were but too com

VOL. II.

monly entertained or affected by the British officers for the Americans in general. The national pride of André made it perhaps, incomprehensible to him, that three American husbandmen could be superior to all temptations of gain, in the discharge of a duty to their country.

Planta remarks, in his History of Switzerland, that William Tell had been more than once branded with the opprobrious appellation of conspirator and assassin. The glory of Tell shines out nevertheless, with undiminished lustre, and the Swiss continue to revere the memory of their rustic benefactor. Congress, I humbly conceive, should have welcomed the petition of John Paulding, for an increase of pension, and seized the opportunity to augment the annuities of his companions,- in testimony of its unshaken faith in the virtue of these men, and the unabated gratitude of the nation for the inestimable service they had rendered. This would have been acting even as to the pecuniary reward, in the sense of the Revolutionary Congress, which plainly indicated its wish to secure to them a fixed value, by the terms employed in the original resolution—“two hundred dollars in specie, or an equivalent in the current money of the State.” During the late war their allowance must have fallen far short of the intended compensation.

One feels, now a days, rather awkward in appealing to the heroic times, for precedents to influence governments; and it is, perhaps, idle to do so; but I cannot help recalling the conduct of the Athenian Republic towards Harmodius and Aristogiton, who, in delivering their country from one of the Pisistratidæ, performed an exploit of which the consequences-important as they were cannot be compared, in price, with those of the frustration of Arnold's Conspiracy. The Athenians, although they knew that the two young citizens who dealt the first blow to the tyranny under which they groaned, were actuated primarily by resentment for a private affront, did not pause to investigate or appraise the motive, nor coldly limit their regard to the question of common duty: They considered only the advantages of the deed, the personal sacrifice of the actors, and the fecundity of the example. They erected statues to Harmodius and Aristogiton; they granted, in perpetuity, valuable privileges to their descendants; they decreed that their names should never be profaned by being given to slaves; that they should be forever celebrated at the Panathenæa, the principal festivals of the Republic; that songs should be composed and sung in their honour at the public games, and in the theatres, &c.

The readers of the Register, will not find any thing absolutely new in the extract from the Memoirs of Marshal Rochambeau, which, as I have intimated, occupies a space originally intended for other matter. But those who feel the proper concern in our

Revolutionary History, will be glad to see the narrative of the French commander merely as such, in an English dress. It was necessary to abridge it, and there is some dryness in the details: We have, however, what is most important, the simple and genuine exposition of this respectable foreigner's views of our situation and movements, and of his own, during the period of his efficacious co-operation with us in the war of our independence, as the leader of the French auxiliaries. We have the satisfaction, too, as in the case of M. de Marbois' work, of reading our panegyric in the pages of a European stranger of the most exalted rank and worth;—of being enabled to adduce another authority, still less to be suspected and equally imposing, in favour of the elevation and purity of our native

character.

We will not regret being reminded of the obligations we owe to the French nation of 1779. I say nation, because the French government did not enter heartily into the cause of our Independence; and, indeed, this is more than could be expected in any government so constituted. It was compel. led to recognize, and, in a certain degree, obeyed the public enthusiasm, after having long and nicely calculated, in that state of abstraction as to feeling which suits the deliberations of a cabinet, in most of the great questions of external policy. There is much light thrown on the subject in a work entitled “A History of French Diplomacy," which was published in Paris in 1811. The author, who was chief clerk at that period, in the Department of Foreign Affairs, has stated, from authentic sources, the calculations of interest which prompted the cabinet of Versailles to countenance our efforts, and the particular cir. cumstances which put an end to its long irresolution about an open military concert. He has copied two autographical letters of Louis XVIth, to the King of Spain, one bearing date the 8th January, 1778, and the other 10th March, of the same year, which I have seen no where else, and in which the leading motives of the policy of the French cabinet, with respect to our struggle, are distinctly set forth.

Louis dwells particularly upon the apprehension of the success of Lord North's plan for a reconciliation between the mother country and the colonies; upon the urgent necessity of preventing this reconciliation, lest France should be assailed by their united forces; the alteration in the face of things, produced by the capture of Bourgoyne, and the position of Howe's army; upon the much that would be subducted from the power of England, by the dismemberment of her empire; and the advantage to result from this circumstance, to France and Spain, &c. The reply of Charles III. of the 22d March, shows that the Spanish government was by no means disposed or resolved at that moment to engage in the contest, though it so soon afterwards, stimu. lated by its own private grievances, and overcome by the importunities of France, issued a declaration of war against England. The reluctance of Spain to lend her aid to those whom Louis styles in one of his letters, the colonial insurgents, was natural enough, and needs no commentary. She is now making to us, mutatis mutandis, the same complaints on the subject of the equipment of privateers in our ports, &c. which were preferred by the British, in their Manifesto of 1779, against the French government. And, if we recur to the wars of Spain with her subjects of the Netherlands, in the reign of Philip II. we shall find that the English government and nation then furnished her with still stronger grounds for complaints of the sort, which were urged as fruitlessiy as they are likely to be in the present instance.

In none of the domestic official papers or confidential communications of the Court of Versailles, respecting the American war, is there a word said about the justice of our cause, or the influence of a generous sympathy. Every measure is referred to the reason of state. In 1782, when the Courts of Vienna and St. Petersburg proposed their mediation, France suggested in her reply, the idea of a truce of many years, in lieu of a definitive treaty between the United States and Great Britain, while she herself should sign a definitive peace. By this expedient the independence of the United States was to be secured in fact, and England to be spared the mortification of a formal recognition of that independence the work of France, as the official memoir of M. de Vergennes modestly affirms. In the confi. dential report which this minister made to the French ambassador at the Court of Spain, concerning his interviews on the subject of peace, with Mr. Grenville, the private agent, whom the Bri. tish Cabinet sent to Paris, in April, 1782, I find the following passage:-" Mr. Grenville said, that the Independence of Ame“ rica being the direct object of the war, and Great Britain “having determined to give entire satisfaction on this head, " there was no further controversy, or obstacle to peace.”

“I did not, as you may imagine, let this strange assertion 6 pass without notice. The detail of facts furnished me with “ irresistible means of demonstrating, that the Independence of America was but a very indirect cause of the war, that it would not even have provoked it, if the British Ministers then in of“ fice, had not seen with the eyes of pride, the declaration made “ to them of our acknowledgment."

When I began to print the “ Abstract of the principal Debates of the Fourteenth Congress," it was my intention to include all such as properly fall under this description. But those which I had placed first in order, occupied a space so considerable, that I found myself obliged, in compliance with the general arrangement of the volume, to omit the remainder. I allude

to the debates on the “ Treaty-making power," the “ Claims' law," the Direct Tax, the National Bank Bill, the Tariff, and the “Compensation law,” which particularly illustrate the abi. lity and eloquence of the Congress, and furnish the most instructive general views of our institutions and domestic policy.

I inserted at large, in my first volume, the oration of Mr. Pinkney, on the “ Treaty-making power;" but this can convey no adequate idea of the range of the debate. The ingenious speeches of Messrs. Calhoun, Forsyth, Gaston, Hopkinson, and Randolph, on the same occasion, embrace an investigation of several fundamental principles of the Federal Constitution. The question was not, indeed, new in our legislative annals, and might have been supposed to be no longer controvertible. The only mischief that could result from the adoption of Mr. Forsyth's Resolutions, was the admission of the principle involved; and as I hold the right asserted for the House of Representatives, to interpret and sanction treaties, as spurious and useless, though not perhaps absolutely dangerous, I rejoice that they were set aside.

It is certainly desirable that all treaties should be discussed in the House of Representatives; and there are various modes of bringing them regularly under examination, without resorting to the pretension just stated. In extreme cases of corruption, incapacity, or mistake in the formation and ratification of them by the constitutional agents, the sure.remedy is provided by the paramount law of self-preservation, and will readily suggest itself to the House of Representatives, and to the people. Such cases, may, however, be fairly described as impossible, with the precautions taken in our system.

! There appears to be a perfect security furnished in the association of the Senate to the Executive branch in the power of concluding treaties. The Senate is a popular body of representatives, and the House could furnish no additional principle of safety or control, unless in the point of mere number. The practice of the British House of Commons, would seem to favour the pretension of our House of Representatives; yet there is, in fact, no parity of reasoning. In England, the crown is without any other check in the negotiation and conclusion of treaties, but the subsequent reference to Parliament for the means of carrying them into effect and the scrutiny which they there undergo. Even the House of Lords, is excluded from any share in this great prerogative, although the spirit of that Assembly is nearly consubstantial with the royal mind, while that of our Senate,-not to say of our Executive,-partakes of the popular genius, just as the human soul is said, in the theory of some metaphysicians, to be an emanation from the Divine essence.

It should be recollected, too, that the British government is collectively omnipotent, and the distribution of faculties in it almost

« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »