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There would be no need, so far as Washington is concerned, to say more on this unfortunate affair of the Secretary of State, were it not for the recent statements made by Randolph's biographer. In order to clear his hero, Mr. Conway represents that Washington, knowing Randolph to be innocent, sacrificed him in great anguish of heart to an imperious political necessity, while the fact was, that nobody sacrificed Randolph except himself. He was represented in a despatch written by the French minister in a light which, as Washington said, gave rise to strong suspicions; a moderate statement in which every candid man who knew anything about the matter has agreed from that day to this. According to Fauchet, Randolph not only had held conversations wholly unbecoming his position, but on the same authority he was represented to have asked for money. That the Secretary of State was corrupt, no one who knew him, as Jefferson said, for one moment believed. Whether he disposed of this charge or not, it was plain to his friends, as it is to posterity, that Randolph was a perfectly honorable man. But neither his own vindication nor that of his biographer have in the least palliated or even touched the real error which he comwnitted.
As Secretary of State, the head of the cabinet, and in charge of our foreign relations, he had, according to Fauchet's despatch and to his own admissions, entered into relations with a foreign minister which ought to have been as impossible as they were discreditable to an American statesman. That Fauchet believed that Randolph deceived him did not affect the merits of the case, nor, if true, did it excuse Randolph, especially as everybody with whom he was brought into close contact seems at some time or other to have had doubts of his sincerity. As a matter of fact, Randolph could find no defence except to attack Washington and discuss our foreign relations, and his biographer has followed the same line. What was it then that Washington had actually done which called for assault 2. He had been put in possession of an official document which on its face implicated his Secretary of State in the intrigues of a foreign minister, and suggested that he was open to corruption. These were the views which the public, having no personal knowledge of Randolph, would be sure to take, and as a matter of fact actually took, when the affair became known. There was a great international question to be settled, and settled without delay. This was done in a week, during which time Washington kept silent, as his public duty required. The moment the treaty was signed he handed Fauchet's despatch to Randolph and asked for an explanation. None knew of the despatch except the cabinet officers, through whom it had necessarily come. Washington did not prejudge the case; he did not dismiss Randolph with any mark of displeasure, as he would have been quite justified in doing. He simply asked for explanation, and threw open his own correspondence and the archives of the department, so that Randolph might have every opportunity for defence. It is difficult to see how Washington could have done less in dealing with Randolph, or in what way he could have shown greater consideration. Randolph resigned of his own motion, and then cried out against Washington because he had been obliged to pay the penalty of his own errors. When it is considered that Washington did absolutely nothing to Randolph except to hand him Fauchet's despatch and accept his consequent resignation, the talk about Randolph's forgiving him becomes simply ludicrous. Randolph saw his own error, was angry with himself, and, like the rest of humanity, proceeded to vent his anger on somebody else, but unfortunately he had the bad taste to turn at the outset to the newspapers. Like Mr. Snodgrass, he took off his coat in public and announced in a loud voice that he was going to begin. The President's only response was to open the archives and bid him publish everything he desired. Randolph then wrote the President a private letter, which was angry and impertinent ; “full of innuendoes,” said the recipient. Washington drafted a sharp reply, and then out of pure kindness withheld it, and let the private letter drop into silence, whither the bulky “Vindication,” which vindicated nobody, soon followed it. The fact was, that Washington treated Randolph with great kindness and forbearanee. He had known him long; he was fond of him on his own account as well as his father's; he appreciated Randolph's talents; but he knew on reading that despatch, if he had never guessed it before, that Randolph, although honest and clever, and certainly not bad, was a dangerously weak man. Others among our public men had put themselves into relations with foreign representatives which it is now intolerable to contemplate, but Randolph, besides being found out at the moment, had, after the fashion of weak natures, gone further and shown more feebleness than any one else had. Washington's conduct was so perfectly simple, and the facts of the case were so plain, that it would seem impossible to complicate them. The contemporary verdict was harsh, crushing, and unjust in many respects to Randolph. The verdict of posterity, which is both gentler and fairer to the secretary, will certainly at the same time sustain Washington's course at every point as sensible, direct, and proper. Only one question remains which demands a word before tracing briefly the subsequent fate of the Jay treaty, and that is, to know exactly why the President signed it. The answer is fortunately not difficult. There was a choice of evils. When Washington determined to send a special envoy, he said: “My objects are, to prevent a war, if justice can be obtained by fair and strong representations (to be made by a special envoy) of the injuries which this country has sustained from Great Britain in various ways; to put it into a complete state of military defence; and to provide eventually such
measures for execution as seem to be now pending in Congress, if negotiation in a reasonable time proves unsuccessful.” From these views he never varied. The treaty was not a perfect one, but it had good features and was probably, as has been said, the best that could then be obtained. It settled some vexed questions, and it gave us time. If the United States could only have time without making undue sacrifice, they could pass beyond the stage when a foreign war with its consequent suffering and debt would endanger our national existence. If they could only have time to grow into a nation, there would be no difficulty in settling all their disputes with other people satisfactorily, either by war or negotiation. But if the national bonds were loosened, then all was lost. It was in this spirit that Washington signed the Jay treaty; and although there was much in it that he did not like, and although men were bitterly divided about the ratification, a dispassionate posterity has come to believe that he was right at the most difficult if not the most perilous crisis in his career. The signature of the treaty, however, did not put an end to the attacks upon it, or upon the action of the Senate and the Executive. Nevertheless, it turned the tide, and, as Washington foresaw, brought out a strong movement in its favor. Hamilton began the work by the publication of the letters of “Camillus.” The opposition newspapers sneered, but after Jefferson had read a few numbers he begged Madison in alarm to answer them.