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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 bad 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 continent.
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 be persevered in what he knew to be right and for his coun. try'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 on the earth at the hands of liberated people freely governing themselves. It was a natural delusion, and a kindly one. History, in the modern sense, was still unwritten, and men did not
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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 come immediately, and in a form widely different from that which, in the slow process of time, it ul, timately assumed. Moreover, Americans did not realize that the well-ordered liberty of the Englishspeaking 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