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to the Senate for their further advice and consent?”
These questions were carefully considered, and Washington had made up his mind to ratify conditionally on the modification of the West Indian article, when news arrived which caused him to suspend action. England, having made the treaty, and before any news could have been received of our attitude in regard to it, took steps to render its ratification both difficult and offensive, if not impossible. The mode adopted was to renew the "provision order," as it was called, which directed the seizure of all vessels carrying food products to France, and thus give to the Jay treaty the interpretation it was designed to avoid, that provisions could be declared contraband at the pleasure of one of the belligerents. It was a stupid thing to do, for if England desired to have peace with us, as her making the treaty indicated, she should not have renewed the most irritating of all her past performances before we had had opportunity even to sign and ratify Washington, on hearing of this move, withed his signature, bade Randolph prepare a strong memorial against the provision order, and then betook himself to Mount Vernon on some urgent private business.
Before he started, however, the storm of popular rage had begun to break. Bache had the substance of the treaty in the “Aurora” on June 29, and Mr. Stevens Thomson Mason, senator from Virginia, was so pained by some slight inaccuracies
in this version that he wrote Mr. Bache a note, and sent him a copy of the treaty despite the injunction of secrecy by which he as a senator was bound. Mr. Mason gained great present glory by this frank breach of promise, and curiously enough this single discreditable act is the only thing that keeps his name and memory alive in history. All that he achieved at the moment was to hurry the inevitable disclosure of the contents of a treaty which no one desired to conceal, except in deference to official form. Mason's note and copy of the treaty, made
into a pamphlet, were issued from Bache's press on July 2, and hundreds of copies were soon being carried by eager riders north and south throughout the Union.
Everywhere, as the treaty traveled, the popular wrath was kindled. The first explosion came in Boston, Federalist Boston, devoted beyond any other town in the country to Washington and his administration. There was a town meeting in Faneuil Hall, violent speeches were made, and a committee was appointed to draw up a memorial to the President against ratification. This remonstrance was despatched at once by special messenger, who seemed to carry the torch of Malise instead of a set of dry resolutions. Everywhere the anger and indignation flamed forth. The ground had been carefully prepared, for, ever since Jay sailed, the partisans of the French had been de. nouncing him and his mission, predicting failure, and, in one case at least, burning him in effigy
before it was known whether he had done anything at all. As soon as the news spread that the treaty had actually arrived, the attacks were multiplied in number and grew ever more bitter as the Senate consulted. The popular mind was so worked up that in Boston a British vessel had been burned on suspicion that she was a privateer, while in New York there had been street fights and rioting because of an insult to a French flag. In such a state of feeling, artificially stimulated and ingeniously misled, the most brilliant diplomatic triumph would have had but slight chance of approval. Jay's moderate achievement was better than his enemies expected, but it was sufficient for their purpose, and the popular fury blazed up through the country, like a whirlwind of fire over the parched prairie. Everywhere the example of Boston was followed, meetings were held, committees appointed, and memorials against the treaty sent to the President. In New York Hamilton was stoned when he attempted to speak in favor of ratification; and less illustrious persons, who ventured to differ from the crowd, were ducked and otherwise maltreated. Jay was hanged and burned in effigy in every way that imagination could devise, and copies of his treaty suffered the same fate at the hands of the hangman. Feeling ran highest in the larger towns where there was a mob, but even some of the smaller places and those most Federal in their politics were carried away. The excitement seems also to have been confined
for the most part to the seaboard, but after all that was where the bulk of the population lived. The crowd, moreover, was not led by obscure agitators or by violent and irresponsible partisans. The Livingstons in New York, Rodney in Delaware, Gadsden and the Rutledges in South Carolina, were some of the men who guided the meetings and denounced the treaty. On the other hand, the friends and supporters of the administration appeared stunned, and for weeks no opposition to the popular movement except that attempted by Hamilton was apparent. Even the administration was divided, for Randolph was as hostile to the treaty as it was possible for a man of his temperament to be.
The crisis was indeed a serious one. There have been worse in our history, but this was one of the gravest; and never did a President stand, so far as any one could see, so utterly alone. With his own party silenced and even divided, with the opposition rampant, and with popular excitement at fever heat, Washington was left to take his course alone and unsupported. It was the severest trial of his political life, but he met it, as he met the reverses of 1776, calmly and without flinching. He was always glad to have advice and suggestions. No man ever sought them or benefited from them more than he; yet no man ever lived so little dependent on others and so perfectly capable of standing alone as Washington. After the Senate had acted, he made up his mind to condi
tional ratification. He withheld his signature on hearing of the provision order, and was ready to sign as soon as that order was withdrawn. Whether he would make its withdrawal another condition of his signature he had not determined when he left Philadelphia for Mount Vernon, and on his arrival he wrote to Randolph: “The conditional ratification (if the late order, which we have heard of, respecting provision vessels is not in operation) may, on all fit occasions, be spoken of as my determination. Unless, from anything you have heard or met with since I left you, it should be thought more advisable to communicate further with me on the subject, my opinion respecting the, treaty is the same now that it was, namely, not favorable to it; but that it is better to ratify it in the manner the Senate have advised, and with the reservation already mentioned, than to suffer mat-, ters to remain as they are, unsettled.” He had already received the Boston resolutions, and had sent them to his cabinet for their consideration. He did not for a moment underrate their importance, and he saw that they were the harbingers of others of like character, although he could not yet estimate the full violence of the storm of popular disapprobation. On July 28 he sent his answer to the selectmen of Boston, and it is such an im portant paper that it must be given in full. It was as follows: