The History of New York State
Book XII, Chapter 3, Part 4

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

His personal qualifications were quite enough to recommend him strongly to the people of New York, in opposition to Jay. His candidacy was not on whit bettered by going to the unpatriotic extreme to which anti-Federalists went, in that time of extremely delicate international relations. Livingston was not averse to snatch the political opportunities of the moment, in the hope that the Governorship would be "a sort of spring-board from which to vault into the White House." #17 Notwithstanding that the Nation was, to all intents, in a state of war with France, Livingston for political gain manifested a "love frenzy for France." He thought that this would defeat Jay in New York, just as Anti-Federalists, or Republicans, built their hopes upon it throughout the country. Federalism, which had been jarred in 1795, was still strong, but not invulnerable--unless the insulting treatment meted out by France to American envoys should lead the President to heed the recommendations of his cabinet and declare war against France. Livingston, and Republicans in general, did not think war would come. They pointed more apprehensively to the monarchical tendencies of the Federalist government.

Jay might not have been inclined to again stand for State office, had he not been stirred by "the indignities which France was at that time heaping upon his country." #18 His desire was to retire to private life; but the probability that these indignities would "lead t war, forbade him to consult his personal gratification." So, on March 6, 1798, he signified his willingness to stand, with Stephen van Rensselaer as Lieutenant-Governor. The Republicans did not contest the latter office.

National events moved fast and excitingly during the month of March. They did not march with the chancellor. In fact, they blotted out what chance Livingston may have had in the New York campaign. Few Americans had kindly remembrances of the French minister for foreign affairs, Talleyrand, who, during a visit to this country while in exile, had shown such contempt for the American people. "A democracy!" he would say, "What is it but an aristocracy of blackguards?" When president Adams published the correspondence of the American envoys, showing that in their negotiations with Talleyrand the latter had tried to extort $240,000 for himself and other fellow-members of the French Directory, as well as a forced loan of $6,000,000 by the United States to France, the American at home were stirred to indignation and repugnance as keen as that felt by their envoys. When they also realized that coupled with this proposal was a threat that, in the event of non-compliance, steps would be taken "immediately to ravage the coast of the United States by French frigates from St. Domingo,' Americans took to arms, echoing Envoy Pinckney's reply: "Million for defense, but not one cent for tribute." The political campaign became a patriotic outburst, and "Hail, Columbia," set to the "President's March," was sung wherever American gathered. The tri-color of France was nowhere to be seen and Anti-Federalists had to make haste to purge their hearts of their inordinate love for France.

It may well be understood, therefore, why governor Jay, in the midst of such excitement, was able to defeat such a strong opponent as chancellor Livingston by a larger majority than had ever before been won in New York for a Governor. His majority was 2,380. Deductions drawn from the Senatorial elections, however, indicate that the national excitement, though a contributory factor and the reason for the great majority, was not the only reason for the re-election of John Jay. He would probably have been successful, even if conditions had been normal and no outside factor had come, for Jay had the confidence of all voters, whereas Livingston's insatiable political aspirations had carried him into association and theories which shook the average voter's opinion of his political integrity. William P. Van Ness, writing four years later on the subject indicates that the ulterior motive of Livingston, in this election campaign, was evident to many. "The result of this election terminated, as was foreseen" write Van Ness, "in the defeat and mortification of Mr. Livingston, and confirmed the conviction of the party, that the people had no confidence in his political integrity, and had been disgusted by his unwarrantable expectations. His want of popularity was so well known that nothing could have induced this inexpedient measure, but a desire to show the futility of his pretensions, and thus in future avoid his hitherto unceasing importunities." #19 It should, however, be pointed out that Van Ness generally used a caustic pen. Still, Livingston did not possess the qualities required of a president; selfishness and jealousy brought uppermost in him defects which outweighed his many excellent qualities. Had Chancellor Livingston been born to a less pampered state than that of the first-born of exceptionally wealthy parents, he might have gone further in public affairs; it may have pained him less to have to recognize greatness in others. Such had not been his lot. However, Chancellor Livingston's constructive efforts for his own State during its important formative years earns him the gratitude of New Yorkers, just as the history of the Louisiana Purchase must ever bring the name of Robert R. Livingston into conspicuous, well-deserved National place.

Almost at War with France, (1798)--Federalism was at its height in 1798, and there seemed every likelihood that the party would be dominant for another decade or more. But seer would do well to go on vacation. 'Tis hard to see the future through war clouds, for, at best, gunpowder is an uncertain and disturbing factor. Without warning or reason, the explosive present is so apt to shatter the predicted route of the waiting future. Gunpowder plays such an important part upon human temperament. When the spell of the heroic hypnotizes a man, he fails to recognize that gunpowder is a dangerous substance, and that it should be handled with extreme care. Still, risk of explosion would not keep such venturesome spirits away from the powder-barrel. Some men, indeed, are happiest in the noise of the explosion, and when the smell of gunpowder is in the air. Prosaic logic can no more restrain them than thoughts of indigestion can stop a healthy boy from devouring a pie. Federalists whose political vision was ordinarily long and clear now had very short sight. There were others who saw so far that ethereal myths blotted out all realities. One of the hardest to restrain was the great Hamilton himself. He, now a war steed, chafed restlessly under the bit of Presidential caution.

It was a most anxious perplexing year for President Adams. France apparently wished to go to war with the Untied States, and an incensed insulting people clamored to go to war against France. As is sometimes the case, public opinion was traveling faster then the President cared to go. Irresponsibility travels light; responsibility is handicapped, carrying many weights. Those in whose care the welfare of the Nation had been placed hesitated to satisfy the chief desire of the people. The French threat to descend upon the American coast might be resisted--nay, would be resisted; but Adams did not think it wise to carry the fiery torch of public indignation too close to the French powder-barrel. To provoke France into execution of its threat would be imprudent. That our President did not take the affront of the Directory supinely, history shows. Adams was not a laggard, nor a craven; his courage had been proved in periods of greater danger than that which now threatened. If war should come, President Adams would meet it with strong hopeful heart, and in the meantime would do all that was possible to gather the means of defense. Knowing how defenseless the coast towns were, and what destruction could be done therein before the nation could rally to defend itself, he preferred to keep well in check for patriotic impulses that surged within him. He would not permit himself to be carried away from prudence by patriotic impulses such as the populace manifested. Patriotism that counts not number is the last resource of the nation--the forlorn hope. Intelligent patriotism is more valuable however, for its looks before it leaps. One eye maybe blinded by patriotic anger but the other is ever open to the best interest of the Nation. Adams was well aware that the French naval forces were then very little, if at all, interior to those of Britain. Nelson had not yet won his great victory over the French in the bay of Aboukir, and another seven years were to pass before the same indomitable British admiral, at Trafalgar, was to decide the question of naval supremacy for a century. As for the navy of the Untied States--why! Adams, in 1798, could county our navy on the fingers of one hand. And at best it was only an improvised fleet of merchant ships which could not hold back a French squadron of fighting frigates. The President tried to hold to the real rather than the heroic. "Hail Columbia!" belching forth from lusty [patriotic throats might cause the French flag to disappear at election time, but its strains would not strike the Tricolor from the masts of armed French frigates, should they appear suddenly before Boston or New York or Philadelphia, with belligerent intent. So, while the President went a long way, in precautionary measures, to meet the French danger--most disastrous legislation for himself and federalism, by the way--he would not follow his more impetuous lieutenants, Hamilton and others, who wished to declare war against France, confidently believing that the British would protect American commerce, and indeed become an active ally. Adams, by the way, had not such confidence in Britain.

In the first days of the war fever, Federalists and Republicans forgot party. Jefferson, who headed the anti-Federalists, or American-Republicans as the opposition was then nationally called, did not hesitate to pit partisanship aside. "If it comes to open war," he observed, as he noticed the wonderful spirit of his patriotic fellow-citizens, "all will unite as one man to repel the invader." In at least this one instance Jefferson and Adams thought alike. If war must come, the onus should be upon their common enemy. The army and navy should be organized, but, except to protect United States commerce against French privateers, the armed forces of the nation should not be used.

However, unanimity and nonpartisan spirit did not long prevail. Federalists legislation was so drastic, so unjust, so frenzied, that Adams, as the head of the that party, soon drew the fire of the Republicans. All factions lost confidence in him. One side charged him with being pro-British, the other seemed to suspect him of inclining towards the French. The belligerent section of his own party could not understand his inaction, in the face of the French insults, and the Republicans viewed with suspicion the rumors of alliance with Britain. Hamilton, especially, lost patience with the president because of the latter would not be drawn into his scheme of an invasion of Spanish-America. South America should be liberated, and the opportunity to snatch Louisiana should not be allowed to slip, thought Hamilton, who was to be the military commander, and perhaps was dazzled by the thought that he might become "a Caesar Augustus in the New World."

Hamilton could not carry along wit him his old New York friend, Governor Jay. Maybe he did not try, for it shave become quite evident that Jay intended loyally to support the President, and discountenance rashness. Jay's shrewder mind, his closer observance and more prescient reading of foreign relations had led him to believe, with Adams and Jefferson, that the French bark might not be followed by a bite, that the dogs of war in this case were the more despicable animals that are fed on the polluted scraps of ministerial duplicity and official corruption rather than upon the red meat of national pride and patriotism. Talleyrand and his fellow-followers of the French directory, they thought, were too much absorbed in the scheme of filling their own private pockets out of the American till than by serious thoughts of pursuing an active State of war against the United States. Nevertheless, Jay could not altogether ignore the possibilities of war. As governor of New York, he had to weigh the consequences to his own State he quickly realized that she, so rich in commerce, so dependent upon maritime trade for her prosperity, would be one of the greatest sufferers. With all haste, therefore, he must strive to sway official sentiment in his State toward the policy of the President, and at the same make all arrangements possible to strengthen the means of defense.

Soon after his re-election, therefore, Governor Jay decided to call the State Legislature into special session. This special session of the Twenty-second Legislature opened on August 9, 1798. news had not yet reached America of the important happenings on the River Nile. Napoleon had done well, but nelson had done better. When confronted by a mighty array of Mameluke warriors insight of the Pyramids, Napoleon had been able to stir such a wave of patriotism in his own army by recalling the glorious French past, that the Mamelukes had not been able to withstand the onrushing wave of heroic Frenchmen. Soon, Napoleon was master of Egypt, but was without lines of communication--a dangerous predicament for an army to be in. Nelson had destroyed the French fleet which had brought Napoleon and his army hither, and incidentally had destroyed even the remotest chance Talleyrand might have had of handling American money. The threat of the French Directory to ravage the American coast had lost if ominous forces.

However, at the time Jay convoked the New York legislature, danger was still grave. So while, in his address, he urged the legislators to leave matters of foreign relations to the national government, he recognized that the defense of New York was a military matter to which the State Legislature might usefully and properly apply themselves immediately. Jay deprecated partisanship at that grave moment, and the Legislature, by its prompt passage of legislation to provide $150,000 for the fortification of New York City and another $1265,000 for arsenals and other military needs, showed that they agreed with him. On the subject, Jay has said, in his address: "The United States cannot be conquered but by civil discord under foreign direction; and it is useful to recollect that to this cause all fallen republics have owed this destruction." Maybe Jay had in mind the differences which were then fast developing into dangerous intrigue, as to which of the three commissioned major-generals--Hamilton, Pinckney, and Knox--should be second in command to Lieutenant-General George Washington, who had consented to head the American army then being raised, but who had threatened to resign if any major-general should be made send to Hamilton. This was alarming. The armed forces upon which the Nation must rely in extreme need stood in danger of dissolution through partisan intrigue and personal jealousies. In Jay's opinion, partisanship and private ambition should not, in such emergencies, come before patriotism and national interests. Certainly, partisanship was out of place in legislative halls at that time. The New York Legislature agreed with him, and closed its special session before partisan strife could mar its record.

The same cannot be written of the next session, which bean in January, 1799; indeed, it would not have been surprising had opposition to federalism been evident in the session of the previous August, for much had happened that must have inclined Republicans and not a few Federalists to object. But war was then too seriously imminent to permit of any but a common thought in Americans. But much change had come since August. The French situation was less acute; indeed, the war fever had subsided. Three months before, President Adams had realized that "regiments are costly article,." That enthusiasm was difficult to maintain "without an enemy to fight." He wished to build up the navy, but as to the army?--"at present," he declared, "there is no more prospect of seeing a French army here than there is in Heaven." #20

As no sign of invasion came, the pressure of heroic occasion had passed, and partisanship had again raised its head. Federalists of the war party were doleful. Senator Rufus King, in August, had thought that France might betray us--in other words, might refuse to fight us; and so the glorious opportunity of expanding the territorial limits of the United States would be lost. In the next month he wrote again to Hamilton: "You will have no war; France will propose to renew negotiations." #21 Not long afterwards Adams had become aware that Talleyrand, "seriously dismayed at this passionate uprising of an offended people across the seas," held out the olive branch. Although Congress, in December, had worn a decidedly warlike dress and demanded use of military force, President Adams would not be coerced into more than "reluctant hostility," to France. So the military projects of the Federal generals were doomed to fizzle away. Fame and glory go into decline in prosaic home environment. Half measures take the spirit out of the prancing war-steed.

The Alien and Sedition Acts (1798)--Republicans could see no opportunity to criticize such an ending, but they were not drawn to condemn, bitterly, other acts of federalism, during the war scare. Federalists, "drunk with power," had passed three bills in 1798 which were looked upon by Republicans as unnecessarily repressive. The three historic measures on which party funs were now trained were: The Naturalization Act of June 18; The Alien Act of June 25; and the Sedition Act of July 14. The opposition had taken some time to gather strength. At one time indeed, it was doubted whether a politician dared publicly express any opinion contrary to that of the government without holding himself liable to arrest under the provisions of the Sedition Act. Seemingly crazed by the thought that the changing Europe would bring change to American and that the Untied States would become the diadem of some European potentate, the Federalists had been oblivious to all sense of justice and freedom of opinion. In a hectic month of legislation the Federalist Congress had passed measures which--if enforced vindictively--would have so curbed individual rights, so restricted liberty, that life for the common man, especially the foreign-born, in this, the supposed Land of Liberty, "would have disgraced the age of Gothic barbarity," declared Edward Livingston. The naturalization Act prolonged the requisite term of residence in the Untied States, preliminary to qualifying for citizenship, from five years to fourteen years. Indeed, some of the extremists would have refused citizenship altogether to all aliens. "It is high time for us," earnestly declared Harper, In Congress, "to recover from the mistake with which we set out under the Constitution of admitting foreigners to citizenship; for nothing but birth should entitle a man to citizenship, and we ought so to declare it." All white aliens were to be placed under surveillance, and alien enemies could not become citizens at all. A "ticket to leave" system, controlling the movements of all aliens, was proposed. Otis wanted to make it impossible for any alien born citizen to hold public office, but this was too drastic. There were too many of that class then in public office--Hamilton was a striking example--for such a system to be favored. There was enough opportunity in the Alien and Sedition Acts to satisfy the most rabid and exclusive American. By the Alien Act provisions any alien could be summarily banished, without trial or known guilt, at the sole discretion of the President. Should any alien, who had been notified to depart, be afterwards found at large without the President's license, he could be imprisoned fro as long as the president considered that the public safety required it. Still harsher features were in the original bill as it passed the Senate. Any alien, for instance, who returned without permission might, if apprehended, be imprisoned for life, and at hard labor. The Sedition Act, as first proposed, in its first section, provided that any person within the Untied States who should adhere to France, and give them aid and comfort would be guilty of treason, punishable with death. This section might be construed as forbidding public criticism of governmental actions; but to make federalism secure, the fourth section embraced all who opposed the government. Fine and imprisonment were to be the penalties exacted of all "who should attempt to justify the hostile conduct of the French, or to defame or weaken the government or laws of the Untied States by any seditious or inflammatory declarations or expression tending to induce a belief that the government or any of tits officers were influenced by motives hostile to the Constitution or to the Liberties and happiness of the people." #22 When the Senate bill was first put into print, Hamilton had been so alarmed that he remonstrated quickly. "Let us not establish a tyranny," he wrote to Wolcott, on June 29; "energy is a very different thing from violence." There were many Federalists, and many more Republicans, who agreed with him. Indeed, the lot of the American citizen under this measure would be worse, as to individual freedom, than that of any "free-born" Englishmen of the provincial period, worse indeed than was the plight of the English people when scourged by the inhuman stratagems used the "Bloody" Jeffreys to stamp out sedition in the day of King James. According to the Sedition Act of 1798, as first drafted, an American suspected of harboring or concealing an alien enemy could be punished "without due process of law." The American Federalists proposed to d what even the most imperious Plantagenets had never dared to do. Magna Charta was to be town into shreds. The inalienable birth-right of the Anglo-Saxon, one of the fundamental principle for which the Revolution had been fought--the right of all men to trail by jury--was to be denied to Americans. The sovereignty of the States was to be a myth, the Bill of State rights was to become a skeleton through which any federal wind might blow with impunity. The amendment to the original constitution, forbidding all infringement upon freedom of speech, was apparently to be of no value. Public opinion dared not be voiced, if hostile to the government. Even members of congress were to be muzzled. Congressman Edward Livingston condemned the bills, declaring the they introduced a state of government that "would have disgraced the age of Gothic barbarity." For this utterance, the outspoken Congressman might have been cast into prison. His speech was referred to, by another member, as "evidence of seditious disposition." Such a state of repression was hardly conceivable. That it should come in liberty-loving American, of all countries, was intolerable. "Where," asked Nicholas, "is the line between liberty and license?" The latter would, indeed, soon obliterate the line of liberty.

These three bills did more than anything else to destroy Federalism. The acts, in their final form, were not so ruthless and unjust as when first presented; and it is fortunate that no prolonged attempt to enforce them was made. Such violations of the spirit of the Constitution, and of the relation of the sovereign States to the Federal government would not for lone be taken seriously. Opposition did not come vehemently for some time, because the bills were generally looked upon as emergency war measures, conceived in the first frenzy of animosity against France, and no more than temporary significance or force. Patriotism at first tied the tongues of objectors, but before lone the murmur of opposition gathered volume. Republicans began to point out that Federalists had laid themselves open to the odious charge that they had used the patriotic outburst for selfish partisan gain. The sinister underlying motive of the legislation was, so Republicans believed, to destroy their political opponents, to destroy democracy, in fact. The Democratic-Republican party, silenced for the moment by the need of united action against the French danger, could not recover from this attack in time to prevent Federalism from marching successfully through the 1798 elections again into office, but opposition grew steadily in all States during the autumn and winter. Two notable protests came; one resolution, drafted by Madison, came from Virginia; the other, drafted by Jefferson, was adopted, with some changes, by the Kentucky Legislature in November, 1798. They were so ominously worded as almost to sound the death-knell of the United States.

It seems somewhat surprising that Governor Jay approved the Federalist acts of June and July, 1798. He did so, it seems, "because of alleged secret combinations in the interest of the French." The need of the moment seemed to excuse everything that favored the government, but nothing that was disloyal to the President. This attitude might be excusable in August, 1798, but no in the following January. Then the Virginia resolutions pronounced the Alien and Sedition Acts as "palpable and alarming infractions of the Constitution"; the Kentucky opinion was that each act as, in fact, "not law bur altogether void and of no force." Nullification, disunion, was the awful spectre. The new York Assembly would not go quite so far, though it came "perilously near," endorsing the Kentucky view.

Aaron Burr was a member of the New York Assembly in 1799, and had appreciable effect upon it. Early in the session,. "the flood-gates of partisanship was opened." A new Council of appointment was organized. This remained Federalist, but when a measure to divide the State into districts for the election of presidential electors came up, also one to reorganize senatorial districts, the influence of Burr was seen in the switching of many Federalists to the opposition, the Republican measure passing a Federalist Assembly by a vote of 55 to 40. It was really a deeply-laid scheme of Democratic-Republicans to win presidential electors in the southern part of the State, formerly hopelessly Federalist. In this, however, Burr was not fully successful. Still this defection from Federalist strength in the House did not auger well for Federalist success in the greater matters that would come before the House. Certain amendments to the Federal Constitution proposed by Massachusetts were favored by New York Federalists. Nevertheless, the Assembly opposition registered thirty-eight votes. Again, Burr was the underlying destructive factor, aligning with the opposition, though elected as an independent. The active opposition leader in the Assembly at this time was a brilliant young lieutenant of the "Burr Faction"--Erastus Root.

 

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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