The Olive Branch
Faults on Both Sides,
Federal and Democratic.
A serious appeal on the necessity of
Our Common Country from Ruin.
(As a mark of gratitude for
inestimable blessings enjoyed,
in liberty of person, liberty of property,
liberty of opinions.
to a degree never exceeded in the world)
is respectfully dedicated
to a beloved but bleeding country,
torn in pieces
factious, desperate, convulsive and
ruinous struggles for power.
* * *
It is likewise dedicated to those
millions of human beings,
who neither hold nor seek office,
but who are made the instruments
of those who do seek them:
and who, while a foreign enemy presses
at their doors,
are enfeebled, kept from union,
and exposed to ruin,
to gratify the ambition of a few men,
(not one in five thousand of the whole community)
who have brought to the very verge of destruction,
the fairest prospect that ever shone on any nation.
-Nov. 8, 1814
The situation of the United States is at the present moment
highly critical. Party and faction, the bane and destruction
of all the old republics, are carried to such extravagant
lengths, as to endanger the public tranquility-and perhaps
lead to civil war, the greatest scourge that ever afflicted mankind.
Unceasing efforts are and have been used to excite our
citizens to open resistance to government. This has principally
taken place in the eastern states; but there is hardly a
portion of the union in which there are not persons constantly
employed in inflaming the public mind, and preparing it for
commotions. Thousands and tens of thousands of citizens,
upright, honest and honourable in private life, have been so
deluded by the madness of party as to believe, that the defeat,
the disgrace and the disasters of our armies-the destruction
of the public credit-(as leading to the expulsion from their
stations of the highest public functionaries duly chosen by
the people)-were all “a consummation devoutly to be
wished”-and the certain means of procuring a speedy and
an honourable peace, which we could not fail to secure, from
the magnanimity of Great Britain, provided we removed
those public officers, whom, according to them, she has so
much reason to execrate.
It is in vain that the uniform voice of history proclaims
that the generosity of nations towards each other is a nonentity;
that the terms of a treaty will be more or less favorable
or injurious in proportion to the relative strength of the parties;
that powerful nations have always taken advantage of the
feebleness of their adversaries; and that the certain road to a
speedy and an honorable peace has ever been to wage war
totis viribus [with all one’s might-ed.].
Were history wholly silent on these topics, the inherent
propensities of human nature, properly explored, might satisfy
every rational mind of the soundness of those political
maxims. They are fair deductions of reason and common
sense, in which the universal experience of mankind bears
testimony. Every nation in its period of debility has been
obliged occasionally to submit to injustice. Every nation possessing
the power to do injustice, has more or less availed itself
of the opportunity.
I am not ignorant, that my fears of civil war are regarded
as visionary, as the wild effusions of a disordered brain. I find
myself in a small minority. And if the correctness of opinions
were to be tested by the numbers who entertain them, mine
would be most miserably erroneous. But this is a conclusion
not warranted by history. It has been a thousand times said,
and will be as often repeated, that the people of the United
States are too enlightened to fall into such a fatal error; that
they know too well the value of the blessings they enjoy, to
sacrifice them so absurdly. Such a delusion was pardonable a
few years back. But our recent, stupendous follies must have
wholly dispelled it. We have displayed, in many cases, nearly
as much insanity as the history of any nation exhibits.
Danger is not diminished by shutting our eyes against its
approach, or by denying its existence. This would be a cheap
price to pay for security. But it is not to be purchased thus. And
those who seriously weigh the causes that led to the civil wars
which desolated France, under the house of Valois; England
under Charles I; and Italy for entire centuries, with hardly any
intermission; will have reason to believe that our security is
very far from being as well founded as is generally supposed.
In many points of view, our situation and our proceedings
bear a strong analogy to those of the three nations to which I
have referrred, immediately previous, to their respective civil
wars. Whoever reads Davila’s history of France, Machiavel’s
history of Florence, or Clarendon’s history of the rebellion
under Charles I, with due attention, will be astonished at the
The difference between our situation a few years since,
and the present turbid state of the country, is indubitably far
greater than from where we now stand to insurrection, and
separation, and civil war. While there are so many combustible
materials scattered abroad, and such unceasing pains
taken to inflame the public mind, very trivial accidents may
enkindle a conflagration. Once unhinge a government-
once let loose mankind from the restraints of law and constitution-
and the human mind cannot readily calculate the
terrible result. It is said, that those who have for years urged
the propriety, and necessity, and advantages to the eastern
states, of a dissolution of the union, do not intend to proceed
thus far; and that they hold out these threats in terrorem to
awe the administration. There is the strongest possible reason
to believe that this is a pernicious, a fatal error-and that
the leaders of the malecontents are perfectly serious in their
views of a separation. How often have the churches echoed
with the insurrectional, the treasonable, the fanatic cry-
“Have we no Moses to lead us out of the land of Egypt?”
Fatuity itself cannot mistake the meaning here. But even
were they merely threatening, it affords us no certainty
against the ruinous result. Those who raise the storm of civil
commotions are not able at pleasure to allay its violence,
and to say with effect, “thus far shalt thou go, and no farther.”
This theory was fully exemplified in the wars of England
between Charles I, and his parliament, and likewise in
the French Revolution. The latter, of which nearly all the
early leaders perished in jails and on scaffolds, is a very
strong case. Very few of these distinguished men contemplated
a recourse to arms. They hoped for a bloodless triumph
over tyranny. But they were borne down by violent
and wicked men who their proceedings put in motion, but
whom they could not restrain.
Never have brighter prospects shone on a nation than
those that shone on the United States. Never has a nation
been more highly blessed. Never has the security of person
and property-of liberty, civil and religious, been attained
by such easy sacrifices. Never has the weight of government
pressed more lightly. Never have the fondest theories of
philosophers and lovers of mankind, been more completely
Our case is very analogous to that of a youth who inherits
a large estate, and, unacquainted with the difficulty of its
acquisition, cannot form an estimate of its value, which is
only to be done by a due consideration of the condition of
those who are destitute of the advantages of fortune. He becomes
a prodigal, and lavishes away his treasures, which he
only then begins to appreciate, when they are irretrievably
squandered. This is precisely our case. We have not suffi-
ciently compared our situation with that of the mass of mankind.-
We have never taken a full view of the glorious, the
inestimable advantages we possessed. We have had the most
noble inheritance that ever fell to the lot of a nation, and
have not duly appreciated our happiness; we have jeopardized
it most wantonly and fatuitously.-We are on the verge
of its total loss. A little further progress in folly and madness,
and we shall be undone. We have by rapid strides approached
the banks of the Rubicon. Whether we shall now plunge in,
and ford the stream, or, struck with a due sense of our errors
and our danger, shall make a retrograde movement, and regain
the elysium whence we started, is yet in the womb of
time. May heaven direct us to the blessed alternative! Beyond
the stream verges a dreary desert, where anarchy and
civil war hold their terrific reign, with all their long train of
horrors, and where the devious paths lead directly to ruthless
It is time, therefore, to make a solemn pause-to retrace
our steps-and, since we refuse to profit by the sad experience
of other ages and nations, to avail ourselves of our own. By
honest endeavors-by abating the odious violence of party
spirit-by mutual compromise-by shaking off the yoke of
the violent men whose influence and prosperity depend on
public commotions-we may happily regain the ground we
have lost-we may dispel the delusion that is leading us to
To vindicate myself from the charge of folly, in my
gloomy apprehensions and anticipations, I shall submit to
the reader, in a special chapter, a few of the hundred thousand
literary efforts which for years have been making to
enkindle the flames of civil war. That we have not yet been
involved in it, is not justly chargeable to the want of a due
degree of labor and industry. Never was more activity displayed-
never was a cause more sedulously or ably advocated.
And never was there less scruple about the means provided
the end was accomplished.
The language of the writers is pretty plain. It admits of no
mistake or misconstruction. That they intend to produce insurrection
and dissolution of the union, regardless of the
frightful consequences, it would be impudence to deny; it
would be folly, or insanity to disbelieve. What may ultimately
be their success, it is impossible to foresee. Everything depends
on the course that may be pursued by those who have
an interest in the public welfare. If they are not wanting to
themselves and to their country, we shall rise triumphant over
our present difficulties and embarrassments. But if the pre-
vailing wonderful apathy continues; if we remain sluggishly
with our arms folded, while our situation grows daily worse
and worse; ruin is inevitable. And we shall afford one of the
most striking instances to be found in history of premature
decay and decrepitude. May the Lord in his mercy avert such
an awful fate!
Reliance is placed by those who deny the existence of the
danger which I deprecate, upon the sober character of the nation.
They deem that character a guarantee against civil war.
I am well aware of this circumstance. I allow it a due share of
influence and importance. But the strong inference drawn
from it is unwarranted by history. And let it be observed once
for all, that the only unerring guide in government or politics,
is history, to the neglect of whose lessons may be ascribed
more than two thirds of our errors and follies. The Athenians
were a highly polished, and a refined people. Yet they were
occasionally led to the most frightful cruelties by their Cleons
and other enrages. They massacred many hundreds of
prisoners in cold blood, and long after they were taken. And
the proscriptions and butcheries the adverse parties perpetrated
on each other, as they gained the ascendancy, are frightful
subjects of reflections, and hold out useful warnings to us.
No nation of modern Europe excelled France, few equalled
her-in courtesy-in mildness-in urbanity. And yet never
did man exhibit himself under a more hideous aspect-never
did he change nature more completely with wolves, tygers,
and hyaenas, than under Marat, Danton, Couthon, and Robespierre.
These are awful lessons, to which those who are lending
their aid to tear down the pillars of our government ought
to attend. Man is the same every where, under the same excitements.
We have our Cleons, and our Couthons, and our
Dantons, who only require suitable occasions to give scope
to their energies. The American revolution exhibited in various
places, where the parties were rancorously embittered
against each other, many terrifying scenes. Prisoners were
often hung up without trial by the partizans on both sides.
Men and women were treacherously shot down in their houses.
And not unfrequently private malice disguised itself under
the cloak of public spirit, to sate its rage. Let us ponder
well on those circumstances.
To apply a remedy to any evil, moral or physical, it is indispensably
necessary to explore its nature-to ascertain its
causes-and to trace their consequences. Any other procedure
is the result of error and folly, and pregnant with defeat
With this view I respectfully solicit the public attention.
I shall take a rapid, retrospective glance at the follies and
guilt, which the factious and discordant state of our country
has generated. As far as in my power I have divested myself
of any party bias, and shall treat the subject as if it belonged
to another age or nation. Whatever errors I may fall into,
shall not arise from sinister intention-they shall be chargeable
to inadvertence and human imperfection. And on my
freedom from partiality, I feel the more reliance, from my
unalterable conviction, that both the hostile parties that divide
this country, and who regard each other with so much
hatred and jealousy, have largely contributed towards the
misfortunes that have befallen us-the melancholy change
that has taken place in our situation-and the dangers that
threaten us. For it is impossible that a candid mind can review
the scenes through which we have passed for some
years, without a thorough conviction, that each has been
guilty of most egregious errors, and follies, and occasionally
of something worse than either; and that whenever the interests
of the nation and the interests of the party came into collision,
the former were too frequently sacrificed by both federalists
and democrats to the latter. No man who has any
public spirit, can take a review of our history without feeling
the deepest regret at the extent of the mischief this miserable
system of conduct has produced. It has defeated many of the
noblest plans that the wisdom of the country has ever devised.
I may be wrong in my calculations, but I believe it has
prevailed to a greater extent here than in almost any other
country. When the present generation sits for its picture to
the historian, it will form a strong contrast to that which is
passed and gone-
“O quantum mutatus ab illo!”
[O, how changed from what he once was!-ed.]
The errors or follies, however, of either party would have produced
but little injury comparatively, had not those of the other
conspired to give them malignity and effect.
From this exposition of my views, it is obvious I shall
steer a course very different from the generality of writers on
political topics. With hardly a single exception, their object is,
having espoused a party, to justify and emblazon its supporters,
whether right or wrong; and, it needs be,
“To make the worse appear the better cause.”
In pursuit of this object, their own partizans are all angels of
light,-whose sublime and magnificent plans of policy are
calculated to produce a political millennium; and their opponents,
demons incarnate, intent on the destruction of the best
interests of the country. These portraits are equally unjust and
incorrect. One is all beauty, with little resemblance of the pretended
original-the other a hideous caricature, equally foreign
from honor, truth and justice.
Among the frightful consequences resulting from this odious
practice, a plain and palpable one presents itself. These
horrible portraits engender a satanical spirit of hatred, malice,
and abhorrence in the parties towards each other. Men on both
sides, whose views are perfectly pure and public spirited, are
to each other objects of distrust and jealousy. We attach all
possible guilt and wickedness-political at least-to our opponents
-and then detest the hobgoblins which we have ourselves
It is not thus society is constituted. The mass of mankind
of all parties, and perhaps in all ages, have meant well, except
in very corrupt states of society. And little more is necessary
to produce harmony between them, than to understand
each other correctly. But they are kept in hostility by
the intrigues and management of demagogues, whose influence
and consequence depend on fomenting discord, and
who would sink into insignificance in times of tranquility.
Mankind hate each other, not for real existing differences,
but for phantoms, the production of heated imaginations.
Experience has frequently evinced that the very plans of policy
which parties out of power have reprobated and denounced
as pernicious, they have pursued themselves as
soon as they had vanquished their opponents, and seized on
their places. And I believe every man of reflection will acknowledge
that if the federalists had retained the administration
in their hands, they would have advocated the rights of
their country as firmly as their successors have done, and
would probably have adopted measures to resist the pretentions
of England, similar to those for which they have so
strenuously, though not very honorably or consistently opposed
the present administration.
In truth, this is not mere supposition. It is historical fact.
It will be seen in the sequel of this work, that the federalists
took as high ground on the subject of impressment, and as
firmly and patriotically resisted the unjust pretentions of
England in that respect, as Mr. Jefferson or Mr. Madison
has done; although the resistance of the two latter presidents
has been among the strongest accusations alleged against them
by their political adversaries.
It is impossible to reflect on these topics without sighing
over human weakness and folly. Federalism has in these
transactions suffered a stain never to be effaced.
Errors of the
In pursuance of my plan, I proceed to a review of those errors of
the democratic party, which have contributed to produce the change
in the prospects of this country, and to darken the political horizon;
and I trust it will appear that I have not done them injustice in
charging them with having a large portion of the guilt to answer for.
In the convention that formed the federal constitution, this
party sowed the seeds of a premature dissolution of that instrument,
and of the American confederacy.-Regarding society
more as it ought to be, than as it has ever been, or is ever
likely to be-led astray by theories more plausible than solid-
applying to a free elective government, deriving all its
powers and authorities from the voice of the people, maxims,
and apprehensions, and precautions, calculated for the meridian
of monarchy, they directed all their efforts, and all their
views, towards guarding against oppression from the federal
government. Whatever of authority or power, they divested it
of, to bestow on the state governments, or reserve to the people,
was regarded as an important acquisition. Against the federal
government their fears and terrors were wholly directed.
This was the monstrum horrendum-ingens-informe [A
monster frightful, formless, immense (Virgil, Aeneid)-ed.],
which they labored to cripple and chain down, to prevent its
ravages.-The state government they regarded with the utmost
complaisance, as the public protectors against their
dreaded enemy of liberty. Alas! little did they suppose that our
greatest dangers would arise from the usurpations of the state
governments, some of which are disposed to jeopardize the
general government. Unfortunately they were too successful.
Their endeavours produced a constitution, which, however
admirably calculated for a period of peace, has been
found incompetent in war to call forth, at once and decisively,
the energies of the nation, and which has been repeatedly
bearded by the state governments. Had the real
federalists in the convention succeeded, and made the
government somewhat more energetic-endowed it with
a small degree more of power-it might endure for centuries.
What fate at present awaits it, is not in human wisdom
to foresee. I fervently pray, with the celebrated father
Paul, esto perpetua [Let it be perpetual-ed.].
This error of the democratic party arose from a want
of due regard to the history of republics, and from a deep
study of those political writers who had written under
monarchical governments, and whose views were wholly
directed to guard against the dangers flowing from the
overweening regal power, especially when in the hands
of men of powerful talents, and great ambition. The theories
whence they derived their views of government were
splendid and sublime-the productions of men of great
public spirit, and regard for the public welfare and happiness-
and had they been duly attempted by maxims
drawn from experience, would have been of inestimable
Establishment of a small Navy
The steady and factious opposition made by the democratic
party to the establishment of a small navy, adequate
at least to the protection of our own coasts, has
been proved by the event to have been most wretched and
miserable policy. It arose partly from the spirit of hostility
toward the party in power, and partly from a sordid
and contemptible spirit of economy, which has in many
instances disgraced and dishonoured this part, who have
frequently proved themselves, to use a very trite but very
expressive, proverb, penny wise-pound foolish. When
we analyze the boasted spirit of economy to which the opposition
to a navy may be in part ascribed, we shall find it arises
from two sources; the one, from men of narrow minds carrying
into public, the huckstering habits of private life. The other,
a base spirit of courting popularity by husbanding the public
money, even on occasions when liberality is true economy,
which is as frequently the case in public affairs as in private
life. Both motives are equally contemptible; but the latter is
the more pernicious, and produced the most ruinous consequences.
It starves and smothers public undertakings, and
public spirit, and often defrauds illustrious men of their due
rewards. . . .
I feel confident, that the nation has lost ten times as much
through want of a small navy, as it would have cost. Numbers
of instances have occurred, of valuable merchantmen having
been captured by petty pickaroons or pirates, with one or two
guns. Our ports have been insulted and outraged by privateers
and sloops of war, which a few vessels would have forced to
keep a respectful distance. There is none of the points on
which the two hostile parties have differed, in which the democrats
are so very far below their adversaries in consulting the
real, the permanent honour and interest of the country, as in
the establishment of a naval force. The policy of the federalists
in this respect was dignified and honorable; that of the
democrats miserably contracted.
Alien and Sedition laws, and
Eight per Cent Loan
The factious clamour excited against the sedition and
alien laws, against the eight per cent. loan-which clamour
was the principal means of changing the administration, and
taking it from the hands of the federalists, to place it in those
of the democrats-may be justly reckoned among the sins of
the latter party. A candid review of the so-stiled [sic] sedition
law, at the present hour, when the public ferment to which it
gave rise, has wholly subsided, will satisfy any reasonable
man, that so far from being an outrageous infringement of liberty,
as was asserted, it was a measure not merely defensible;
but absolutely necessary and indispensible towards the support
of government. [In a footnote, Carey admits he himself
adapted to public opinion and opposed the sedition law at the
time]. . . .
I have little to say respecting the alien law. It was liable to
strong objections. It invested the president with powers that
might be much abused. But it certainly never warranted the
awful outcry that was raised against it. . . .
The eight per cent. loan remains. It was united with, and
increased the clamour against the alien and sedition laws; and
these three obnoxious measures, as I have already observed,
precipitated the federalists from power. Yet we have since
found that their successors, the democrats, have themselves
given a greater interest than eight per cent. This would afford
a glorious triumph to federalism over her inveterate rival, democracy,
were it not that the annals of the former can furnish
many instances of similar frailty, and inconsistency, and departure
from professions. . . .
The opposition to this instrument, which pervaded the
union, and greatly disturbed the administration of Gen. Washington,
was a factious procedure on the part of the democrats,
who were led away by objections, plausible but not substantial-
hardly one of which has been realized. This affair evinces
the folly and danger of yielding to the sudden impulses of
national feeling, which bear down every thing before them,
and which wholly overpower the reason and understanding of
even the wise and good, who quoad hoc [to this extent-ed.]
are only on a level with the much uninformed and uncultivated
part of the community. . . .
Of the errors of Mr. Jefferson’s Administration
It is unnecessary to mention more than three, denoting
two very opposite extremes of character-the one highly bold
and daring-the others displaying an equal degree of feebleness.
. . .
[These are the Treaty with England, the Separation of the
States, i.e., the right to secession, and the Embargo-ed.]
The first of the errors of Mr. Madison’s administration,
that I shall notice, will be the refusal of the armistice offered
by admiral Warren, on the 12th of September, 1812, nearly
three months after the declaration. . . .
[Carey goes on to say that the war was totally just but that
its expediency, given the chances of success, was not very
The Appointment of Mr. Gallatin,
As minister to treat with England, was a very considerable
error. . . .
Recent neglect of due Preparations
Under this head, the president and the heads of departments
are still more culpable than under any of the former
From the period of the downfall of Bonaparte, and the
complete triumph of Great Britain and her allies, it was obvious
to the meanest capacity that her powers of annoyance had
increased prodigiously. The immense forces raised to aid the
coalition against France were liberated from all employment
but against us. And of the disposition of England to continue
the war, we had the most convincing indications. . . .
During all this deceitful calm, through which every man
of discernment might readily and unerringly foresee the approaches
of a fearful storm-as every indication from England,
deserving of credit, portended a long, a desperate, and a
vindictive warfare; the government of the United States took
no measures to dispel the delusion. In vain the public looked
to Washington for information on the prospect of affairs. . . .
This conduct on the part of the administration was to the
last degree culpable. It was a dereliction of duty that exposed
our citizens to ruinous consequences. . . .
The crash of the conflagration at Washington awaked us
out of our slumbers, and dispelled the delusion.-We were
then aroused to a full sense of our dangerous situation, and of
the folly and supineness that had caused it. We went manfully
to work-and in a few weeks made such preparations as renewed
public confidence and promised fair to enable us to repel
the enemy, should he make his appearance.
Bank of the United States
Among the great sins of the democratic party, must be
numbered the non-renewal of the charter of the bank of the
United States. This circumstance injuriously affected the
credit and character of this country abroad-produced a great
deal of stagnation, distress, and difficulty at home-and is
among the causes of the existing embarrassments and difficulties
of the pecuniary concerns of the country. Were it now in
existence, its capital might readily at any time be increased by
congress, 10, 12, 30, or 40 millions, so as to aid the government
most effectually, and support the national credit.
To the renewal of the charter there were various objections
made, on the ground of inexpediency: but these had not
much influence-nor were they entertained by many of the
members. The grand difficulty arose from the idea so steadily
maintained by the democratic party, that the constitution imparted
no power to grant charters of incorporation. Many of
the members who on this ground voted in the negative, most
unequivocally admitted the expediency of a renewal of the
This constitutional objection was obviated, it would appear,
unanswerably. All the departments of the government,
legislative, executive, and judiciary, had recognized the institution,
at various times during the twenty years of its existence.
The courts of different states and of the United States had
sustained various suits brought by the bank in its corporate
capacity-by which so far as depended upon the judiciary, it
had the seal of constitutionality stamped on it. This was a very
serious, important, and decisive circumstance.
In addition to this, a democratic legislature of the United
States had given it a most solemn sanction. In March 1804, an
act had passed to authorize the institution to establish branches
in the territories of the United States, which power was not
embraced by the original charter. This act was passed without
a division, when nearly all the members were present. No constitutional
objection could have been then suggested; for such
members as believed the measures unconstitutional, would
indubitably have called for the ayes and nays in order to record
their dissent. . . .
These cases, with others which might be cited, produced
this dilemma. They either, as I have stated, afford a complete
recognition of the constitutionality of the charter, or a gross,
palpable violation of the constitution, by the three several
grand departments of the government. . . .
It therefore follows irresistibly that every member who
voted for the act of March 1804, and afterwards voted against
a renewal of the charter, merely on the ground of unconstitutionality,
was guilty of a manifest, if not a criminal inconsistency.
. . .
The Capture of Washington
. . . It is not for me to decide on whom the censure ought to
fall, on the president-the secretary at war-or the district
general, Winder-or on the whole together. But let that point
be determined as it may, it cannot be denied, that nothing but
the most culpable neglect could have led to the results that
took place. . . .
* * *
This detail of misconduct has been a painful talk. Far more
agreeable would it have been to have descanted on the merits
and talents of the president and the other public functionaries.
To a man of a liberal mind it is infinitely more agreeable to
bestow the meed of praise, than to deal out censure. But a
rough truth is preferable to a smooth falsehood. And whatever
chance we have of arriving at the haven of peace and happiness,
depends upon a fair and candid examination of ourselves,
which must infallibly result in a conviction that, so
great have been the errors, the follies, and the madness on
both sides, that mutual forgiveness requires no effort of generosity-
it is merely an act of simple justice.
* * *
Before I quit this branch of my subject, it is but proper to
observe, that it is hardly possible to conceive of a more diffi-
cult and arduous situation than Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison
have been placed in. They have had to struggle with two belligerents,
one supremely powerful by land, and on that element
holding in awe the chief part of the civilized world-the
other equally powerful by sea;-and each in his rage against
the other, violating the clearest and most indisputable rights of
neutrals, and inflicting upon us, in a time of pretended peace,
nearly as much injury as if we were ranked among the belligerents
together. The federalists, as I shall shew more fully in
the sequel, after goading the government into resistance, and
vilifying them for not procuring redress, thwarted, opposed,
and rendered nugatory every rational effort made to accomplish
the very object they professed to seek-a degree of madness
and folly never-enough-to-be-deplored.
Chapter III: The Federalists
Having thus taken what I hope will be allowed to be a candid
view of the errors and misconduct of the democratic party,
it remains to perform the same office for their opponents. And
I feel confident, it will appear that the latter have as much need
to solicit forgiveness of their injured country, as the former. In
the career of madness and folly which the nation has run, they
have acted a conspicuous part and may fairly dispute the palm
with their competitors.
In the federal convention, this party made every possible
exertion to increase the energy and add to the authority of the
general government, and to endow it with powers taken from
the state governments and from the people. Bearing strongly
in mind the disorders and convulsions of some of the very illbalanced
republics of Greece and Italy, their sole object of
dread appeared to be the inroads of anarchy. And as mankind
too generally find it difficult to steer the middle course, their
apprehensions of the Scylla of anarchy effectually blinded
them to the dangers of the Charybdis of despotism. Had they
possessed a complete ascendency in the convention, it is probable
they would have fallen into the opposite extreme to that
which decided the tenor of the constitution.
This party was divided among themselves. A small but
very active division were monarchists, and utterly desbelieved
[sic] in the efficacy or security of the republican form
of government, especially in a territory so extensive, as that of
the United States, and embracing so numerous a population as
were to be taken into the calculation at no distant period. The
remainder were genuine republicans, men of enlightened
views, and a high degree of public spirit and patriotism. They
differed as widely from the democratic part of that body, as
from the monarchists. It is unfortunate that their counsels did
not prevail. For it is true in government, as in almost all other
“In medio tuttissimus ibis.”
Safety lies in the middle course. Violent and impassioned men
lead themselves-and it is not wonderful they lead others
astray. This party advocated an energetic, but at the same time
a republican form of government, which on all proper occasions
might be able to command and call forth the force of the
The following letter [to Federalist Timothy Pickering-
ed.] sheds considerable light on the views of Alexander Hamilton,
who took a distinguished part in the proceedings of that
respectable body.-It is obvious that a president during good
behaviour, could hardly be considered other than a president
New York, Sept. 16, 1803
“My Dear Sir,-I will make no apology for my delay in
answering your enquiry some time since made, because I
could offer none which would satisfy myself-I pray you
only to believe that it proceeded from any thing rather than
want of respect or regard-I shall now comply with your request.
“The highest toned propositions which I made in the convention
were for a president, senate and judges, during good
behaviour; a house of representatives for three years. Though
I would have enlarged the legislative power of the general
government, yet I never contemplated the abolititon of the
state governments; but on the contrary, they were, in some
particulars, constituent parts of my plan.
“This plan was, in my conception, conformable with the
strict theory of a government purely republican; the essential
criteria of which are, that the principal organs of the executive
and legislative departments, be elected by the people, and
hold their offices by a responsible and temporary or defeasible
“A vote was taken on the proposition respecting the executive.
Five states were in favour of it; among these Virginia;
and though from the manner of voting by delegations, individuals
were not distinguished; it was morally certain, from
the known situation of the Virginia members (six in number,
two of them Mason and Randolph professing popular doctrines)
that Madison must have concurred in the vote of Virginia-
thus, if I sinned against republicanism, Mr. Madison is
not less guilty.
“I may truly then say that I never proposed either a president
or senate for life, and that I neither recommended nor
meditated the annihilation of the state governments.
“And I may add, that in the course of the discussions in the
convention, neither the propositions thrown out for debate,
nor even those voted in the earlier stages of deliberation, were
considered as evidence of a definite opinion in the proposer or
voter. It appeared to be in some sort understood, that, with a
view to free investigation, experimental propositions might
be made, which were to be received merely as suggestions for
consideration. Accordingly it is a fact, that my final opinion
was against an executive during good behaviour, on account
of the increased danger to the public tranquility incident to the
election of a magistrate of his degree of permanence. In the
plan of a constitution which I drew up while the convention
was sitting, and which I communicated to Mr. Madison about
the close of it, perhaps a day or two after, the office of president
has no longer duration than for three years.
“This plan was predicated upon these bases:-1 That the
political principles of the people of this country would endure
nothing but a republican government. 2 That in the actual
sitation of the country, it was right and proper that the republican
theory should have a fair and full trial-3 That, to such a trial
it was essential that the government should be so constructed
as to give it all the energy and the stability reconcilable with
the principles of that theory-These were the genuine sentiments
of my heart, and upon them I then acted.
“I sincerely hope that it may not hereafter be discovered,
that through want of sufficient attention to the last idea, the
experiment of republican government, even in this country,
has not been as complete, as satisfactory, and as decisive as
could be wished.
Very truly, dear sir,
Your friend and servant,
In the conflict of opinion that took place in the convention,
there was a necessity for a spirit of compromise, in order to
secure success to their labours-The tenacity of some leading
men of adverse opinions had nearly rendered the effort abortive.
According to Luther Martin, Esq. one of the Maryland
delegates, the convention was several times on the verge of
adjournment, re infecta [the business being unfinished-ed.].
The good fortune of the nation prevailed, and after a session
of about four months, the constitution was finally agreed
upon, and submitted to public discussion.
The federal party immediately took the reins, and administered
the government of the United States for twelve years.
During this period, its want of sufficient energy, and its danger
from the state governments, were frequent subjects of impassioned
complaint. Every man who opposed the measures of
the administration, of what kind soever they were, or from whatever
motives, was stigmatized as a disorganizer and a jacobin, which
last terms involved the utmost extent of human atrocity; a jacobin
was, in fact an enemy to social order-to the rights of property-to
religion-and to morals-and ripe for rapine and spoil.
As far as laws could apply a remedy to the feebleness of the
general government, they sedulously endeavoured to remove the
defect. They fenced around the constitutional authorities, as I have
stated, with an alien and sedition law. By the former, they could banish
from our shores obnoxious foreigners whose period of probation
had not expired. By the latter, every libel against the government,
and every unlawful attempt to oppose its measures, were subject to
punishment, more or less severe, in proportion to its magnitude.
The alien law was not, as far as I can ascertain, ever carried
into effect. It was hung up in terrorem [in order to frighten-
ed.] over the heads of several foreigners, who, in the language
of the day, were rank jacobins, and of course enemies
of God and man. But the case was far different with the sedition
law. Several individuals could bear testimony from experience,
to the severity with which its sanctions were enforced.
Some cases occurred of a tragicomical kind, particularly one
in New Jersey, in which the culprit was found guilty under this
law for the simple wish that the wadding of a gun, discharged
on a festival day, had made an inroad into, or singed the posteriors
of Mr. Adams, then president of the United States.
But every thing in this sublunary world is liable to revolution;
and this is proverbially the case with power in a republican
government. The people of the United States changed
their rulers. By the regular course of election, they withdrew
the reins from the hands of the federalists, and placed them in
those of the democrats.
This was a most unexpected revolution to the federalists.
It wholly changed their views of the government. It has been
asserted in England that a tory in place, becomes a whig when
out of place-and that a whig when provided with a place, becomes
a tory. And it is painful to state that too many among us
act the same farce. The government, which, administered by
themselves, was regarded as miserably feeble and inefficient,
became, on its transition, arbitrary and despotic; notwithstanding
that among the earliest acts of the new incumbents,
was the repeal not merely of the alien and sedition laws, but of
some of the most obnoxious and oppressive taxes!
Under the effects of these new and improved political
views, a virulent warfare was begun against their successors.
The gazettes patronized by those devoted to federalism, were
unceasing in their efforts to degrade, disgrace, and defame the
administration. All its errors were industriously magnified,
and ascribed to the most perverse and wicked motives. Allegations
wholly unfounded, and utterly improbable, were reiterated
in regular succession. A constant and unvarying opposition
was maintained to all its measures, and hardly ever was
there the slightest allowance made for the unprecedented and
convulsed state of the world. And never was there more ardour
and energy displayed in a struggle between two hostile
nations, than the opposition manifest in their attacks upon the
administration. The ruinous consequences of this warfare,
and its destruction of the vital interests of the nation, will fully
appear in the sequel. . . .
* * *
Federalists of the United States
An attentive perusal of the preceding pages can, I hope,
hardly have failed to place me beyond the suspicion of the despicable
vice, flattery-and must give to my commendation at
least the merit of sincerity.
After these introductory remarks, I made no scruple to declare
my decided conviction, that in private life I know of no
party, in ancient or modern history, more entitled to respect, to
esteem, to regard, than the American federalists in general-
in all the social relations of husbands, parents, brothers, children,
and friends.-There are exceptions. But they are as few
as apply to any body equally numerous. Political prejudice, or
the widest difference of opinions, has never so far obscured
my visual ray, as to prevent me from discerning, or my reasoning
faculty from acknowledging this strong, this honourable
truth-the more decisive in its nature, from being pronounced
by a political opponent.
But, fellow citizens, after this frank declaration in your
praise as to private life, and for private virtue, let me freely
discuss your public conduct. Believe me I mean not to offend.
I trust I shall not. I address you the words of truth. The crisis
forbids the use of ceremony. I hope you will give the subject a
serious consideration-and receive with indulgence what emanates
from candor and friendship.
I believe there is not to be found in the widest range of history
another instance of a party so enlightened, so intelligent,
so respectable, and in private life so virtuous, yielding themselves
up so blindly, so submissively, and with so complete an
abandonment of the plainest dictates of reason and common
sense, into the hands of leaders so undeserving of their confi-
dence. In and after the days of Washington, you stood on a
proud eminence-on high and commanding ground. You
were the friends of order and good government. You were
tremblingly alive to the honour of your country. You identified
it with your own. But it is difficult to find a more lamentable
change in the conduct of any body of men than has taken place
with your leaders. The mind can hardly conceive a greater
contrast than between a genuine Washingtonian federalist of
1790, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, and the Bostonian, who, covered
with the pretended mantle of Washington federalism, destroys
the credit of his own government-and collects the metallic
medium of the nation to foster the armies preparing to attack
and lay it waste. Never were holy terms so prostituted. Washington
from heaven looks down with indignation at such a
vile perversion of the authority of his name. . . .
Let me request your attention to a few facts-and to re-
flections and queries, resulting from them-
I. Your proceedings and your views are eulogized in Montreal,
Quebec, Halifax, London, and Liverpool. The Courier
and the Times, and all the other [British] government papers
are loud and uniform in your praise.-This is an awful fact,
and ought to make you pause in your career.
II. Your party rises as your country sinks. It sinks as your
country rises. This is another awful fact. It cannot fail to rend
the heart of every public-spirited man among you. By the love
of the God of Peace-by the shade of Washington-by that
country which contains all you hold dear, I adjure you to
weigh well this sentence-you sink as your country rises. Yes,
it is indubitably so. It is a terrific and appalling truth. And you
rise as that desponding, lacerated, perishing, betrayed country
sinks. I would rather be a dog, and bay the moon, than
stand in this odious predicament.
III. Had there been two or three surrenders like General
Hull’s [who treacherously surrendered his troops, who were
in fact several times the size of the British forces opposing
him] . . . or had our [warships] been sunk and our [military and
government leaders] been killed or taken prisoners, your leaders
would have been crowned with complete success: They
would have been wafted on a spring tide to that power which
is “the God of their idolatry.” Every event that sheds lustre on
the arms of America is to them a defeat. . . . But every circumstance
that entails disgrace or distress on the country, whether
it be bankruptcy defeat, treachery, or cowardice, is auspicious
to their views. . . .
V. By fulminations from the pulpit-by denunciations
from the press-by a profuse use of British government
bills-by unusual, unnecessary, hostile, and oppressive drafts
for specie on the New York banks, and by various other unholy,
treasonable, and wicked means, the leaders of your party
in Boston have reduced the government to temporary bankruptcy;
have produced the same effect on the banks; have depreciated
the stocks and almost every species of property 10
to 20 per cent.
VI. These treasonable operations have served the cause of
England more effectually than Lord Wellington could have
done with 30,000 of his bravest veterans. They have produced
incalculable, and to many, remediless distress.
VII. After having thus treasonably destroyed credit of the
government, one of their strongest accusations is its bankruptcy!
VIII. A man who ties another, neck and heels, and gags
him, might, with equal justice, blow out his brains for not
singing Yankee doodle, or dancing a fandango, as those who
produce bankruptcy inculpate the bankrupt with his forlorn
and desperate circumstances.
IX. There is no other country in the world, where these
proceedings would not be punished severely-in many they
would be capitally. Their guilt is enormous, clear, and indisputable.
They strike at the safety, and even the existence, of
society. . . .
XI. While you submit to leaders, whose career is so iniquitous,
were you in private life as pure as archangels, you partake
largely of the guilt of those whom you uphold; whose
power of destruction depends on your support; and who would
sink into insignificance, but for your countenance.
XII. If the pretext, or even the strong belief, on the part of
the minority, that a war, or any other measure, is unjust, can
warrant such a jacobinical, seditious, and treasonable opposition
as the present has experienced, no government can exist.
. . .
XIII. The most unerring characteristic of a desperate faction,
is an uniform opposition to all the measures proposed by
its opponents, whether good or bad, and without offering substitutes.
The more dangerous the crisis, and the more necessary the measures,
the more infallible the criterion.
XIV. This characteristic exactly and most indisputably applies to your
leaders. This country is on the brink of perdition. Yet they have opposed and
defeated every measure devised for our salvation. They appear determined
to deliver us tied hand and foot into the power of the enemy, unless they can
seize the reins of government. . . .
XIX. Suppose your leaders at Washington succeed in driving Mr.
Madison, and the other public functionaries from office, and seize upon
the reins of government themselves, what a melancholy disgraceful triumph
would it not be, to raise your party on the ruins of your form of government.
. . .
XXII. You profess to desire peace. I firmly believe you do. But are divisions,
and distractions and envenomed factions, and threatened insurrections,
the seed to sow for a harvest of peace? . . .
XXIV. . . . I plead not, fellow citizens, for democracy; I
plead not for federalism. Their differences have sunk into utter
insignificance. Were the contest between them, I should
not have stained a single sheet of paper. I plead against jacobinism;
I plead against faction; I plead against attempts to
“overawe and control the constituted authorities.” I plead the
cause of order, of government; of civil and religious liberty. I
plead for the best Constitution the world ever saw; I plead for
your honor as a party, which is in the utmost jeopardy. I plead
for your estates, which are going to ruin. I plead for your
bleeding country, which lies prostrate and defenseless, pierced
with a thousand wounds. I plead for your aged parents, for
your tender children, for your beloved wives, for your posterity,
whose fate depends upon your conduct at this momentous
All, all, loudly implore you to withdraw your support
from those who are leagued for their destruction, and who
make you instruments to accomplish their unholy purposes.
You are on the verge of a gaping vortex, ready to swallow up
yourselves and your devoted country. . . . Aid in extricating
your country from danger. And then, if you select calm, and
dispassionate, and moderate candidates for public office, there
can be no doubt of your success. I am firmly persuaded that
nothing but the intemperate and unholy violence of your leaders
has prevented you from having that share of influence in
the councils of the nation to which your wealth, your numbers,
your talents, and your services, give you so fair a
claim. . . .