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which a retreat might have been made from the first faua, pas, the shutting of which, to those who are not behind the curtain and are as little acquainted with the secrets of the cabinet as I am, is, from the present aspect of European affairs, quite incomprehensible.” He hoped but little good from the mission, although it had his fervent wishes for its success, expressed repeatedly in letters to members of the cabinet; and while he was full of apprehension, he had a firm faith that all would end well.
For this anxiety, indeed, there was abundant reason. A violent change of policy toward France, the disorders occasioned by political dissensions at home, and the sudden appearance of the deadly doctrine of nullification, all combined to excite alarm in the mind of a man who looked as far into the future and as deep beneath the surface of things as did Washington. It was then that he urged Patrick Henry to reënter public life, and exerted his own influence wherever he could to check the separatist movement set on foot by Jefferson. He was deeply disturbed, too, by the tendencies of the times in other directions. The delirium of the French Revolution was not confined to France. Her soldiers bore with them the new doctrines, while far beyond the utmost reach of her armies flew the ideas engendered in the fevered air of Paris. Wherever they alighted they touched men and stung them to madness, and the madness that they bred was not confined to those who believed the new gospel, but was shared equally by those who resisted and loathed it. Burke, in his way, was as much crazed as Camille Desmoulins, and it seemed impossible for people living in the midst of that terrific convulsion of society to retain their judgment. Nowhere ought men to have been better able to withstand the contagion of the revolution than in America, and yet even here it produced the same results as in countries nearly affected by it. The party of opposition to the government became first ludicrous and then dangerous, in their wild admiration and senseless imitation of ideas and practices as utterly alien to the people of the United States as cannibalism or fireworship. Then the Federalists, on their side, fell beneath the spell. The overthrow of religion, society, property, and morals, which they beheld in Paris, seemed to them to be threatening their own country, and they became as extreme as their opponents in the exactly opposite direction. Federalist divines came to look upon Jefferson, the most timid and prudent of men, as a Marat or Robespierre, ready to reproduce the excesses of his prototypes; while Pickering, Wolcott, and all their friends in public life regarded themselves as engaged in a struggle for the preservation of order and society and of all that they held most dear. They were in the habit of comparing French principles to a pestilence, and the French republic to a raging tiger. Even Hamilton was so moved as to believe that the United States were on the verge of anarchy, and he laid down his life at last in a senseless duel because he thought that his refusal to fight would disable him for leading the forces of order when the final crash came. Washington, with his strong, calm judgment and his penetrating vision, was less affected than any of those who had followed and sustained him; but he was by no means untouched, and if we try to put ourselves in his place, his views seem far from unreasonable. He had at the outset wished well to the great movement in France, although even then he doubted its final success. Very soon, however, doubts changed to suspicions, and suspicions to conviction. As he saw the French revolution move on in its inevitable path, he came to hate and dread its deeds, its policies, and its doctrines. To a man of his temper it could not have been otherwise, for license and disorder were above all things detestable to him. They were the immediate fruits of the French revolution, and when he saw a party devoted to France preaching the same ideas in the United States, he could not but feel that there was a real and practical danger confronting the country. This was why he felt that we needed an energetic policy, and it was on this account that he distrusted the President's renewed effort for peace. The course of the opposition, as he saw it, threatened not merely the existence of the Union, but wittingly or unwittingly struck at the very foundations of society. His anxiety did not make him violent, as was the case with lesser men, but it convinced him of the necessity of strong measures, and he was not a man to shrink from vigorous action. He was quite prepared to do all that could be done to maintain the authority of the government, which he considered equivalent to the protection of society, and for this reason he approved of the Alien and Sedition acts. In the process of time these two famous laws have come to be universally condemned, and those who have not questioned their constitutionality have declared them wrong, inexpedient and impolitic, and the immediate cause of the overthrow of the party responsible for them. Everybody has made haste to disown them, and there has been a general effort on the part of Federalist sympathizers to throw the blame for them on persons unknown. Biographers, especially, have tried zealously to clear the skirts of their heroes from any connection with these obnoxious acts; but the truth is, that, whether right or wrong, wise or unwise, these laws had the entire support of the ruling party from the President down. Hamilton, who objected to the first draft because it was needlessly violent, approved the purpose and principle of the legislation; and Washington was no exception to the general rule. He was calm about it, but his approbation was none the less distinct, and he took pains to circulate a sound argument, when he met with one, in justification of the Alien and Sedition acts." In November, 1798, Alexander Spotswood wrote to him, asking his judgment on those laws. As the writer 1 See letter to Bushrod Washington, Sparks, vi. p. 387.
announced himself to be thoroughly convinced of their unconstitutionality, Washington, with a little sarcasm, declined to enter into argument with him. “But,” he continued, “I will take the liberty of advising such as are not ‘thoroughly convinced,’ and whose minds are yet open to conviction, to read the pieces and hear the arguments which have been adduced in favor of, as well as those against, the constitutionality and expediency of those laws, before they decide and consider to what lengths a certain description of men in our country have already driven, and seem resolved further to drive matters, and then ask themselves if it is not time and expedient to resort to protecting laws against aliens (for citizens, you certainly know, are not affected by that law), who acknowledge no allegiance to this country, and in many instances are sent among us, as there is the best circumstantial evidence to prove, for the express purpose of poisoning the minds of our people and sowing dissensions among them, in order to alienate their affections from the government of their choice, thereby endeavoring to dissolve the Union, and of course the fair and happy prospects which are unfolding to our view from the Revolution.” With these strong and decided feelings as to the proper policy to be adopted, and with such grave apprehensions as to the outcome of existing difficulties, Washington was deeply distressed by the divisions which he saw springing up among