by Gerald Therrien
The Unveiling of Canadian History, Volume 3.
The Storming of Hell – the War for the Territory Northwest of the Ohio, 1786 – 1796.
During the American Revolution, when General Washington had asked General Wayne to undertake an extremely perilous enterprise – the storming of Stony Point, Wayne replied : “General, I will storm Hell, if you will only plan it.”
Part 1 – The Western Frontier
President Washington, not only had to deal with opposition to peace with the Indian nations from the British, but also with opposition to his policies from within his own cabinet, as Jefferson and Madison began forming their own political faction – starting with an alliance with George Clinton, and with Aaron Burr !!!
Chapter 8 – The Jeffersonian Beginnings of Party Politics in 1791
Thomas Jefferson, by Charles Willson Peale
President Washington had been contemplating retiring to the tranquility of private life at Mount Vernon. He had wished to end his public career with a nation enjoying economic happiness and peace within its borders. During a brief vacation in May 1792, he invited Madison to visit him, where he asked him to compose a farewell address and to advise him on the best time to release it to the public. But the President was most concerned about a new problem – dissension in his cabinet – that had been coalescing into two political factions over the past year.
Frustrated that Congress (and the President) had approved of Hamilton’s reports on public credit and on a national bank, Jefferson and Madison decided that it was time to do more than just voice their disapproval of Hamilton’s program, and they planned a trip to New York to seek allies for their party.
But just before this New York trip, Jefferson’s April 26th 1791 letter to the publisher of Thomas Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’, that warned ‘against the political heresies that have sprung up amongst us’, was published as the introduction to the book. Jefferson assured President Washington, who read this as an attack on his administration, that he never intended this letter to be made public, and claimed that he was actually criticizing essays of Vice-President John Adams! (A surprised Adams said that he had no recollection of ever discussing theories of government with Jefferson.) Jefferson later wrote to Madison claiming that this introductory letter ‘marks my opposition to the government’.
During May and June of 1791, Madison and Jefferson undertook a trip to northern New York, using the excuse of investigating the flora and fauna in that part of America. On the trip, they met with Robert Livingston, George Clinton and with Aaron Burr, to seek their support in defeating the policies of Alexander Hamilton. Livingston and Clinton had joined forces to defeat Philip Schuyler, the father-in-law of Hamilton, and to elect Aaron Burr as the United States Senator from New York.
Madison would continue as a speech-writer for President Washington (when requested) – drafting the president’s annual message to Congress, while also chairing the committee that responded to it! Jefferson would give permission to Burr to examine the records of the Department of State, in the morning hours before it opened each day – until President Washington issued a peremptory order denying him further access.
It was shortly afterwards (quite suspiciously), during that summer of 1791, that Hamilton would become entrapped into having an affair with Maria Reynolds. (James Reynolds had been renting his stylish wife to various gentlemen, and then blackmailing them.)
Also, while on their trip to New York, Madison and Jefferson had met with Madison’s former college room-mate at Princeton, Philip Freneau, to convince him to come to Philadelphia and launch a newspaper that would express their mutual fear and detestation of Hamilton’s attempt to shape the federal government along ‘British’ and ‘monarchist’ lines. Freneau accepted, when Jefferson offered him a job as a French translator in Jefferson’s State Department.
The National Gazette, under Freneau, printed its first issue on October 31st 1791. Over the next 12 months, Madison, in close consultation with Jefferson (who tried to appear to be neutral), would contribute 18 unsigned essays, in attacks on Hamilton`s program.
On July 4th 1791, shares in the Bank of the United States went on sale (at $400 a share). But, as a way for the less wealthy to acquire shares, you could pay $25 for a ‘scrip’, that entitled you to a share while having 18 months to pay in full. Some speculators began to drive up the price of these ‘scrips’, and by August 15th, the federal government’s Commissioners of the Sinking Fund (including Jefferson) authorized Hamilton to intervene in the open markets, and he ordered the purchase of $350,000 of United States government debt to stop the speculation. The Bank of the United States would later open its office in Philadelphia on December 12th.
Meanwhile, Hamilton was continuing his economic plan for the new nation – to promote the development of manufacturing in America and to free itself from its dependency on British manufactures. On September 5th, a ‘prospectus’ – that had been written by Hamilton and his assistant Tench Coxe – for a Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures was published in Philadelphia.
It received a charter in New Jersey on November 22nd, for a 6-mile area that would be located at the Falls of the Passaic River and later would become the city of Paterson. The SEUM’s stockholders elected William Duer as its governor. Hamilton would present to Congress his completed Report on Manufactures, on December 5th 1791. (Ten days later, Hamilton would receive his first blackmail letter from James Reynolds.)
Hamilton, and Hamilton’s plans, would now be attacked both in Philip Freneau’s ‘National Gazette’ and also, in the ‘General Advertiser’, run by Benjamin Bache, Dr. Benjamin Franklin’s grandson.
Upon Dr. Franklin’s death, Benny inherited his printing equipment and started the ‘General Advertiser’ in October 1790. During his youth spent in Europe with his grandfather, Benny had attended school in Geneva (!!!) and was under the care of Philibert Cramer, the official publisher of Voltaire.
In March 1792, William Duer, Alexander Macomb and other speculators (men that a concerned Hamilton labelled ‘unprincipled gamblers’) tried to corner the market on government 6% bonds. But the federal government sued Duer for $240,000 – money that was missing in Treasury funds, while Duer was assistant secretary of the treasury in 1789-1790, either because of sloppy bookkeeping or embezzlement. Again, Hamilton was authorized by the Commissioners of the Sinking Fund (except this time, Jefferson opposed it! – because of his hatred of the Bank of United States, hoping, perhaps, that it would fail) to make purchases of government debt, in order to put a stop to the panic. This bankrupted the speculators, including Duer and Macomb who both ended up in prison.
But before President Washington, in May, asked Madison to compose a farewell address, he would receive three letters, warning him about his Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson.
On January 3rd 1792, President Washington received an anonymous letter, concerning Jefferson’s ambition, that read:
“Beware. Be upon your guard. You have cherished in your Bosom a Serpent, and he is now endeavouring to sting you death. Under the Mark of a Democrat, he thinks he conceals his ambition which is unbounded. His vanity makes him believe that he will certainly be your Successor. But he can not wait with patience until it shall please God to take you from this world. He wishes to precipitate his career by inspiring you with disgust against the Senate and thus induce you to retire at the expiration of your Four Years …”
On January 20th, President Washington received another letter from the same anonymous writer, concerning Jefferson’s opposition to the Senate and his opposition to the President’s military policy, that:
“… Your S. of S. never loses an opportunity of promulgating doctrines of a different tendency. In his opinion the Senate ought to be deprived, by what he calls an amendment of the Constitution, of every thing except their legislative vote – and even that he says appears doubtful to him & to his little friend [i.e. Madison], since the French in their new Constitution have proved that the dangers to be apprehended from a single branch of the Legislature are unfounded & chimerical …”
“You think that a regular, disciplined, military force is proper for the defence of this Country. Every man who understands the interest of this Country, thinks so too. When you ask the opinion of the S. of S., he affects great humility, & says he is not a judge of military matters. Behind your back he reviles with the greatest asperity your military measures, & ridicules the idea of employing any regular Troops. Militia he says ought alone to be depended on. By such artifices he renders your proceedings odious to a considerable number of the ignorant part of the community. His doctrines are strongly supported by his cunning little friend Madison, & by the Atty General, who has received a long Letter from his brother in law Colonel Nicholas in Kentucky, containing the severest strictures upon the military arrangents & laying down a plan for committing the defence of the Country entirely to the militia of Kentucky …”
And finally, at the end of March, President Washington received a third anonymous letter, exposing Jefferson’s use of Freneau’s newspaper, that:
“… I do not believe you know that the National Gazette was established under the immediate patronage of Mr Jefferson and Mr Madison, and that Mr Freneau the Printer of it is a Clerk in the Secretary of State’s Office wth a Salary as Interpreter. Examine the productions wch appear in that Gazette. Is it proper that the Secretary of State should encourage the malevolent attacks wch are continually making against the Government? Be assured Sir that those Men are at the head of a most wicked Faction, chiefly composed of Virginians, but assisted by some other restless, ambitious Men. Their objects are to destroy Mr Hamilton, by making him odious in the public Eye, to place Mr Jefferson at the head of the Government, to make Mr Madison prime Minister, to displace the Vice President at the next Election, to lay this Country prostrate at the feet of France, to affront and quarrel wth England, to take advantage of the cry of the ignorant multitude in favor of Democracy, and thus to establish an absolute Tyranny over the minds of the populace by the affectation of a most tender regard to the rights of Man, and a more popular Government.”
After President Washington had received a draft of the farewell address from Madison, and had returned to Philadelphia, on May 23rd he now received a frantic letter from Jefferson urging him to stay on and serve a second term.
Jefferson’s letter started with an attack on Hamilton’s plan for the public credit, that:
“A public debt, greater than we can possibly pay before other causes of adding new debt to it will occur, has been artificially created … that all the capital employed in paper speculation is barren and useless; producing, like that on a gaming table … that it nourishes in our citizens habits of vice and idleness instead of industry and morality; that it has furnished effectual means of corrupting such a portion of the legislature, as turns the balance between honest voters which ever way it is directed … that the ultimate object of all this is to prepare the way for a change, from the present republican form of government, to that of a monarchy of which the English constitution is to be the model.”
Jefferson urges the president not to resign but to remain for a second term because:
“The confidence of the whole union is centred in you. Your being at the helm, will be more an answer to every argument which can be used to alarm and lead the people in any quarter into violence or secession”
while as to himself resigning, Jefferson writes that:
“It is a thing of mere indifference to the public whether I retain or relinquish my purpose of closing my tour with the first periodical renovation of the government”
And he further adds that:
“I think it probable that both the Spanish and English negociations, if not completed before your purpose is known, will be suspended from the moment it is known; and the latter nation will then use double diligence in fomenting the Indian war.”
On July 10th, President Washington met with Jefferson concerning this letter, saying that:
“The pieces lately published, and particularly in Freneau’s paper seemed to have in view the exciting opposition to the government … that they tended to produce a separation of the Union, the most dreadful of all calamities, and that whatever tended to produce anarchy, tended of course to produce a resort to monarchical government. He considered those papers as attacking him directly … that in condemning the administration of the government they condemned him … He did not believe the discontents extended far from the seat of government.”
When Jefferson told him that the two great complaints were that the national debt was unnecessarily increased, and that it had furnished the means of corrupting both branches of the legislature, President Washington ‘defended the assumption and argued that it had not increased the debt, for that all of it was an honest debt’. Even if the debtor states had instead been directed to pay their deficiencies to the creditor states, the president said that ‘still … it would be paid by the people’. Jefferson noted that ‘finding him really approving the treasury system, I avoided entering into argument with him on those points’.
On July 29th, President Washington wrote to Hamilton, that:
“Wishing to have before me explanations of, as well as the complaints, on measures in which the public interest, harmony and peace is so deeply concerned, and my public conduct so much involved; it is my request, and you would oblige me in furnishing me, with your ideas upon the discontents here enumerated.”
President Washington listed 21 ‘complaints’ – from Jefferson’s May 23rd letter.
On July 30th, Hamilton wrote to President Washington (but before he had received his July 29th letter), to urge him to reconsider his decision not to seek re-election that:
“The affairs of the national government are not yet firmly established – that its enemies, generally speaking are inveterate as ever … that a general and strenuous effort is making in every state to place the administration of it in the hands of its enemies, as if they were its safest guardians … that if you continue in office nothing materially mischievous is to be apprehended – if you quit much is to be dreaded … in fine, that on public and personal accounts, on patriotic and prudential considerations, the clear path to be pursued by you will be again to obey the voice of your country.”
On August 18th, Hamilton answered Jefferson’s 21 complaints in a 14,000-word essay that:
“The public Debt was produced by the late war. It is not the fault of the present government that it exists … Little inequalities, as to the past, can bear no comparison with the more lasting inequalities, which, without the assumption, would have characterised the future condition of the people of the United States; leaving upon those who had done most or suffered most, a great additional weight of burthen … The Debt existed. It was to be provided for. In whatever shape the provision was made the object of speculation and the speculation would have existed. Nothing but abolishing the Debt could have obviated it. It is therefore the fault of the Revolution not of the Government that paper speculation exists … The idea of introducing a monarchy or aristocracy into this Country, by employing the influence and force of a Government continually changing hands, towards it, is one of those visionary things, that none but madmen could meditate and that no wise men will believe.”
Jefferson summoned James Monroe and James Madison to write a series of articles, under assumed names, in Freneau’s ‘National Gazette’, defending Jefferson while lambasting Hamilton. Hamilton responded by writing under a pen name, in John Frenno’s ‘Gazette of the United States’, an assault on Jefferson’s character.
It should be remembered that Jefferson’s defence of the common people and his attacks on extravagance and luxury in America, came from a man who had returned to America from France with 5 servants – including a slave chef, James Hemings, whom he had taken to Paris for training, and a maitre d’hotel whom he brought with him from Paris – along with 86 crates of expensive French furniture, dinnerware, silver and paintings, plus 288 bottles of expensive wines!!!
[ next week – chapter 9 – The Petition against a House of Assembly, October 13th 1788 ]
For those who may wish to support my continuing work on ‘The Unveiling of Canadian History’, you may purchase my books, that are available as PDFs and Paperback (on Amazon) at the Canadian Patriot Review :
Volume 1 – The Approaching Conflict, 1753 – 1774.
Volume 2 – Forlorn Hope – Quebec and Nova Scotia, and the War for Independence, 1775 – 1785.
Volume 3 – The Storming of Hell – the War for the Territory Northwest of Ohio, 1786 – 1796, and
Volume 4 – Ireland, Haiti, and Louisiana – the Idea of a Continental Republic, 1797 – 1804,
may also appear in print, in the near future, while I continue to work on :
Volume 5 – On the Trail of the Treasonous, 1804 – 1814.