Page images

of intrigue, the profligacy of corruption, and the pestilence of foreign inflaence, which is the angel of destruction to elective governments; if a love of equal laws, of justice, and humanity in the interior administration; if an inclination to improve agriculture, commerce, and manufactures for necessity, convenience, and defence; if a spirit of equity and humanity towards the aboriginal nations of America, and a disposition to meliorate their condition by inclining them to be more friendly to us and our citizens to be more friendly to them; if an inflexible determination to maintain peace and inviolable faith with all nations, and that system of neutrality and impartiality among the belligerent powers of Europe which has been adopted by this government, and so solemnly sanctioned by both Houses of Congress, and applauded by the legislature of the states and the public opinion, until it shall be otherwise ordained by Congress; if a personal esteem for the French nation, formed in a residence of seven years chiefly among them, and a sincere desire to preserve the friendship which has been so much for the honor and interest of both nations; if, while the conscious honor and integrity of the people of America, and the internal sentiment of their own power and energies must be preserved, an earnest endeavor to investigate every just cause, and remove every colorable pretence of complaint; if an intention to pursue by amicable negotiation a reparation for the injuries that have been committed on the commerce of our fellow citizens by whatever nation, and if success cannot be obtained, to lay the facts before the legislature that they may consider what farther measures the honor and interest of the government and its constituents demand; if a resolution to do justice as far as may depend upon me, at all times and to all nations, and maintain peace, friendship, and benevolence with all the world; if an unshaken confidence in the honor, spirit, and resources of the American people, on which I have so often hazarded my all, and never been deceived; if elevated ideas of the high destinies of this country and of my own duties towards it, founded on a knowledge of the moral principles and intellectual improvements of the people, deeply engraven on my mind in early life, and not obscured but exalted by experience and age, and, with humble reverence, I feel it to be my duty to add, if a veneration for the religion of a people who profess and call themselves Christians, and a fixed resolution to consider a decent respect for Christianity among the best recommendations for the public service, can enable me in any degree to comply with your wishes, it shall be my strenu ous endeavor this sagacious injunction of the two Houses shall not be without effect.

With this great example before me, with the sense and spirit, the faith and honor, the duty and interest, of the same American people pledged to support the constitution of the United States, I entertain no doubt of its continuance in all its energy, and my mind is prepared, without hesitation, to lay myself under the most solemn obligations to support it to the utmost of my power.

And may that Being who is Supreme over all, the Patron of order, the Fountain of justice, and the Protector, in all ages of the world, of virtuous liberty, continue his blessing upon this nation and its government, and give it all possible success and duration consistent with the ends of his Providence.


MAY 16, 1797.

Gentlemen of the Senate and House of Representatives:

THE personal inconvenience to the members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives, in leaving their families and private affairs at this season of the year, are so obvious, that I the more regret the extraordinary occasion which has rendered the convention of Congress indispensable.

It would have afforded me the highest satisfaction to have been able to congratulate you on a restoration of peace to the nations of Europe whose animosities have endangered our tranquillity. But we have still abundant cause of gratitude to the Supreme Dispenser of National Blessings, for general health and promising seasons for domestic and social happiness-for the rapid progress and ample acquisitions of industry through our extensive territories-for civil, political, and religious liberty. While other states are desolated with foreign war, or convulsed with intestine divisions, the United States present the pleasing prospect of a nation governed by mild and equal laws generally satisfied with the possession of their rights-neither envying the advantages nor fearing the power of other nations- solicitous only for the maintenance of order and justice, and the preservation of libertyincreasing daily in their attachment to a system of government in proportion to their experience of its utility-yielding a ready and general obedience to laws flowing from the reason, and resting on the only solid foundation, the affections of the people.

It is with extreme regret that I shall be obliged to turn your thoughts to other circumstances, which admonish us that some of these felicities may not be lasting. But if the tide of our prosperity is full and a reflux commencing, a vigilant circumspection becomes us, that we may meet our reverses with fortitude, and extricate ourselves from their consequences with all the skill we possess and all the efforts in our power.

In giving to Congress information of the state of the Union, and recommending to their consideration such measures as appear to me to be expedient or necessary, according to my constitutional duty, the causes and the object of the present extraordinary session will be explained.

After the president of the United States received information that the French government had expressed serious discontents at some proceedings of the government of these states said to affect the interests of France, he thought it expedient to send to that country a new minister, fully instructed to enter on such amicable discussions, and to give such candid explanations, as might happily remove the discontents and suspicions of the French government, and vindicate the government of the United States. For this purpose, he selected from among his fellow citizens a character whose integrity, talents, experience, and services had placed him in the rank of the most esteemed and respected in the nation. The direct object of his mission was expressed in his letter of credence to the French republic, being "to maintain that good understanding which, from the commencement of the alliances, had subsisted between the two nations, and to efface unfavorable impressions, banish suspicions, and restore that cordiality which was at once the evidence and pledge of a friendly union." And his instructions were to the same effect, "faithfully to represent the disposition of the govern

ment and people of the United States, their disposition being one to remove jealousies and obviate complaints by showing that they were groundless, to restore that mutual confidence which had been so unfortunately and injuriously impaired, and to explain the relative interests of both countries, and the real sentiments of his own."

A minister thus specially commissioned it was expected would prove the instrument of restoring mutual confidence between the republics. The first step of the French government corresponded with that expectation. A few days before his arrival at Paris, the French minister of foreign relations informed the American minister then resident at Paris of the formalities to be observed by himself in taking leave, and by his successor preparatory to his reception. These formalities they observed, and on the 9th December presented officially to the minister of foreign relations, the one a copy of his letters of recall, the other a copy of his letters of credence.

These were laid before the executive directory. Two days afterward, the minister of foreign relations informed the recalled American minister that the executive directory had determined not to receive another minister plenipotentiary from the United States until after the redress of grievances demanded of the American government, and which the French republic had a right to expect from it. The American minister immediately endeavored to ascertain whether, by refusing to receive him, it was intended that he should retire from the territories of the French republic; and verbal answers were given that such was the intention of the directory. For his own justification, he desired a written answer; but obtained none until towards the last of January, when, receiving notice in writing to quit the territories of the republic, he proceeded to Amsterdam, where he proposed to wait for instructions from this government. During his residence at Paris, cards of hospitality were refused him, and he was threatened with being subjected to the jurisdiction of the minister of the police; but with becoming firmness, he insisted on the protection of the law of nations due to him as the known minister of a foreign power. You will derive farther information from his despatches, which will be laid before you.

As it is often necessary that nations should treat for the mutual advantage of their affairs, and especially to accommodate and terminate difficulties, and as they can treat only by ministers, the right of embassy is well known and established by the law and usage of nations. The refusal on the part of France to receive our minister is, then, the denial of a right; but the refusal to receive him until we have acceded to their demands without discussion and without investigation, is to treat us neither as allies, nor as friends, nor as a sovereign state.

With this conduct of the French government, it will be proper to take into view the public audience given to the late minister of the United States on his taking leave of the executive directory. The speech of the president discloses sentiments more alarming than the refusal of a minister, because more dangerous to our independence and union, and at the same time studiously marked with indignities towards the government of the United States. It evinces a disposition to separate the people of the United States from the government to persuade them that they have different affections, principles, and interests from those of their fellow citizens whom they themselves have chosen to manage their common concerns and thus to produce divisions fatal to our peace. Such attempts ought to be repelled with a decision that shall convince France and the world that we are not a degraded people,

humbled under a colonial spirit of fear and sense of inferiority, fitted to be the miserable instruments of foreign influence, and regardless of national honor, character, and interest.

I should have been happy to have thrown a veil over these transactions, if it had been possible to conceal them; but they have passed on the great theatre of the world, in the face of all Europe and America, and with such circumstances of publicity and solemnity that they cannot be disguised, and will not soon be forgotten. They have inflicted a wound on the American breast. It is my sincere desire, however, that it may be healed.

It is my sincere desire, and in this I presume I concur with you and with our constituents, to preserve peace and friendship with all nations; and believing that neither the honor nor the interest of the United States absolutely forbid the repetition of advances for securing these desirable objects with France, I shall institute a fresh attempt at negotiation, and shall not fail to promote and accelerate an accommodation on terms compatible with the rights, duties, interests, and honor of the nation. If we have committed errors, and these can be demonstrated, we shall be willing to correct them. And equal measures of justice we have a right to expect from France, and every other nation.

The diplomatic intercourse between the United States and France being at present suspended, the government has no means of obtaining official information from that country. Nevertheless, there is reason to believe that the executive directory passed a decree on the second of March last. contravening in part the treaty of amity and commerce of one thousand seven hundred and seventy-eight, injurious to our lawful commerce and endangering the lives of our citizens. A copy of this decree will be laid before


While we are endeavoring to adjust all our differences with France by amicable negotiation, the progress of the war in Europe, the depredations on our commerce, the personal injuries to our citizens, and the general complexion of our affairs, render it my indispensable duty to recommend to your consideration effectual measures of defence.

The commerce of the United States has become an interesting object of attention, whether we consider it in relation to the wealth and finances, or the strength and resources, of the nation. With a sea-coast of near two thousand miles in extent, opening a wide field for fisheries, navigation, and commerce, a great portion of our citizens naturally apply their industry and enterprise to those objects. Any serious and permanent injury to commerce would not fail to produce the most embarrassing disorders. To prevent it from being undermined and destroyed, it is essential that it receive an adequate protection

The naval establishment must occur to every man who considers the injuries committed on our commerce, and the insults offered to our citizens, and the description of the vessels by which these abuses have been practised. As the sufferings of our mercantile and seafaring citizens cannot be ascribed to the omission of duties demandable, considering the neutral situation of our country, they are to be attributed to the hope of impunity, arising from a supposed inability on our part to afford protection. To resist the consequences of such impressions on the minds of foreign nations, and to guard against the degradation and servility which they must finally stamp on the American character, is an important duty of government.

A naval power, next to the militia, is the natural defence of the United

States. The experience of the last war would be sufficient to show that a moderate naval force, such as would be easily within the present abilities of the Union, would have been sufficient to have baffled many formidable transportations of troops from one state to another which were then prac tised. Our sea-coasts, from their great extent, are more easily annoyed and more easily defended by a naval force than any other. With all the materials, our country abounds; in skill, our naval architects and naviga gators are equal to any; and commanders and seamen will not be wanting.

But although the establishment of a permanent system of naval defence appears to be requisite, I am sensible it cannot be formed so speedily and extensively as the present crisis demands. Hitherto, I have thought proper to prevent the sailing of armed vessels, except on voyages to the East Indies, where general usage and the danger from pirates appeared to render the permission proper. Yet the restriction has originated solely from a wish to prevent collisions with the powers at war, contravening the act of Congress of June, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-four, and not from any doubt entertained by me of the policy and propriety of permitting our ves sels to employ means of defence while engaged in a lawful foreign comIt remains for Congress to prescribe such regulations as will ena ble our seafaring citizens to defend themselves against violations of the law of nations, and at the same time restrain them from committing acts of hos tility against the powers at war. In addition to this voluntary provision for defence by individual citizens, it appears to me necessary to equip the frigates, and to provide other vessels of inferior force, to take under convoy such merchant vessels as shall remain unarmed.

The greater part of the cruisers, whose depredations have been most inju rious, have been built, and some of them partially equipped, in the United States. Although an effectual remedy may be attended with difficulty, yet I have thought it my duty to present the subject generally to your consideration. If a mode can be devised by the wisdom of Congress to prevent the resources of the United States from being converted into the means of annoying our trade, a great evil will be prevented. With the same view, I think it proper to mention that some of our citizens, residents abroad, have fitted out privateers, and others have voluntarily taken the command, or entered on board of them, and committed spoliations on the commerce of the United States. Such unnatural and iniquitous practices can be restrained only by severe punishments.

But besides a protection of our commerce on the seas, I think it highly necessary to protect it at home, where it is collected in our most important ports. The distance of the United States from Europe, and the well-known promptitude, ardor, and courage of the people in defence of their country, happily diminish the probability of invasion. Nevertheless, to guard against sudden and predatory incursions, the situation of some of our principal seaports demands your consideration. And as our country is vulnerable in other interests besides those of commerce, you will seriously deliberate whether the means of general defence ought not to be increased by an addition to the regular artillery and cavalry, and by arrangements for forming a provisional army.

With the same view, and as a measure which, even in time of universal peace, ought not to be neglected, I recommend to your consideration a revi sion of the laws for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, to ren der that natural and safe defence of the country efficacious.

« PreviousContinue »