Lossing's Field Book of the War of 1812, Chapter V. - War on the Ocean. - Political Struggles.







Preparations for War. – Washington invited to command the Army. – He accepts. – Hamilton acting General-in-chief. – The Pride of the Directory humbled. – A Minister Plenipotentiary to France appointed. – Three Envoys sent to France. – Bonaparte First Consul. – Naval Warfare between the Americans and the French. – Capture of Le Croyable. – The United States and the Constitution. – Life and Services of Commodore Barry. – British Outrages. – The Obsequiousness of the American Government. – Instructions of the Secretary of the Navy. – Naval Engagements. – Increase of the Navy. – Victory of the Constellation over the Insurgente. – American Cruisers in the West Indies. – Contest between the Constellation and La Vengeance. – Truxtun’s Victory welcomed. – He is honored by Congress. – His public Services. – Peace. – Troubles among the Federalists. – Character of President Adams. – Opposition to Adams in his own Party. – Plans of Federalists for defeating Adams. – Tactics of the Democrats. – The Alien and Sedition Laws. – Method of Choosing Electors. – Germ of a new Party. – Jefferson elected President of the United States. – Mortification of the Federalists. – Ins and Outs. – Announcement of the Death of Washington. – Its Effect. – Action of Congress on the Death of Washington. – Marks of Respect in Europe. – Funeral Honors. – M‘Pherson Blues. – Medal in Honor of Washington. – Sketch of Washington’s Person and Character.


"Should the tempest of war overshadow our land,

Its bolts could ne’er rend Freedom’s temple asunder;
For, unmoved, at its portal, would Washington stand,
And repulse with his breast the assaults of the thunder!
His sword from the sleep
Of its scabbard would leap,
And conduct with its point ev’ry flash to the deep!
For ne’er shall the sons of Columbia be slaves
While the earth bears a plant, or the sea rolls its waves."


Having resolved on war, if necessary, for the dignity of the nation, the question arose spontaneously in the hearts of the American people, Who shall command our armies at this important crisis? All minds instinctively turned toward Washington as the only man who could command the respect of the whole nation and keep a dangerous faction in check. 1 "In such a state of public affairs," Hamilton wrote, "it is impossible not to look up to you. . . . In the event of an open rupture with France, the public voice will again call you to command the armies of your country. . . . All your past labor may demand, to give it efficacy, this farther, this great sacrifice." 2 "We must have your name, if you will in any case permit us to use it," President Adams wrote to him on the 22d of June. "There will be more efficiency in it than in many an army." And four days later, James M‘Henry, the Secretary of War, wrote to him, "You see how the storm thickens, and that our vessel may soon require its ancient pilot. Will you – may we flatter ourselves that, in a crisis so awful and important, you will accept the command of all our armies? I hope you will, because you alone can unite all hearts and all hands, if it is possible that they can be united."

These intimations were followed by corresponding action. On the 7th of July President Adams, with the consent of the Senate, appointed Washington Lieutenant-general and commander-in-chief of all the armies raised and to be raised for the service of the United States. The venerated patriot, then sixty-five years of age, instantly obeyed the call of his country. "You may command me without reserve," he said to President Adams, qualifying the remark only by the expressed desire that he should not be called into active service until the public need should demand it. His friend, Mr. Hamilton, then forty-one years of age, was appointed first major general, and placed in active supreme command; and in November, Washington held a conference at Philadelphia with all the general officers, when arrangements were made for the complete organization of a provisional army on a war footing.

Washington all this while had looked upon the gathering tempest with perfect confidence that the clouds would pass by, and leave his country unscathed by the lightning and the hail. Events soon justified his faith. The pride of the haughty Directory was speedily humbled, and the fears of England, toward whom many thoughtful men in America had looked as a possible friend and aid in the event of a war with France, were allayed. The victorious Bonaparte, who had threatened Great Britain with invasion, had gone off to Egypt on a romantic expedition, his avowed object being to march into Palestine, take possession of Jerusalem, rebuild the Temple, and restore the Jews to their beloved city and land. This he unsuccessfully attempted after the battle of the Nile, in which the proud Toulon fleet had been vanquished by Nelson [August 1, 1798.]. A few weeks later Sir John Borlase Warren had scattered a French fleet [October 12.] that hovered on the coast of Ireland to aid insurgents there; and many minor victories were accorded to English prowess. 3

These successes of the English, intelligence of the war feeling in America, and the appointment of Washington as commander-in-chief of the armies of the United States, made the intoxicated Directory pause in their mad career. The wily Talleyrand began to think of conciliation. In letters to Pinchon [August 28 and September 28, 1798.], French secretary of legation at the Hague, he intimated that any advances for negotiation that the government of the United States might make would be received by the Directory in a friendly spirit. These intimations, as intended, were communicated to William Vans Murray, the United States minister at the Hague, who transmitted them to his government.

Without consulting his Cabinet, or taking counsel of national dignity, President Adams nominated Mr. Murray minister plenipotentiary to France. The country was astounded. It came upon the Cabinet, the Congress, and the people without premonition. The Cabinet opposed it, and the Senate resolved not to confirm it. No direct overtures had been made by the French government; and some of Mr. Adams’s best friends, who regarded war as preferable to dishonor, deprecated a cowardly cringing to a half-relenting tyrant, and warmly remonstrated with him. He persisted, and they were estranged. He finally so far yielded to public opinion as to nominate three envoys extraordinary, Mr. Murray being one, to negotiate a settlement of all matters in dispute between the United States and France. These were confirmed by the Senate at near the close of the session, in February, 1799, not willingly, but from a conviction that a refusal to do so might endanger the existence of the Federal party, for Mr. Adams had many and powerful supporters. It was stipulated, however, that the two envoys yet at home (Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth and Patrick Henry 4) should not embark for Europe until authentic and satisfactory assurances should be given as to their reception. Such assurances were received by the government in October following, and in November Ellsworth and W. R. Davie (the latter having taken Mr. Henry’s place) sailed for Europe. Fortunately for all parties, when the envoys reached France a change had taken place in the government of that country. The Directory was no more. Bonaparte had suddenly returned from the East, after great and brilliant movements with various results, and was hailed as the good genius of the Republic. He found, as he expected, his country rent by political dissensions, and the Directory in disrepute among the most powerful classes. With the assistance of a strong party, supported by bayonets, he dissolved the Assembly of Representatives and took the government into his own hands [November 8, 1799.], with the title of First Consul, which was at first conferred upon him for ten years, and afterward for life.

The audacity and energy of Bonaparte saved France from anarchy and ruin. To please the people he proclaimed a pacific policy, and opened correspondence with the powers then at war with the Republic with professions of peaceful desires. It was at this auspicious moment that the American envoys arrived [March 2, 1800.] at Paris.

While these political movements were in progress, and preparations were making in the United States for a French invasion, war between the two nations actually commenced on the ocean, although hostilities had not been proclaimed by either. On the 7th of July, 1798, Congress declared the old treaties with France at an end, and two days afterward passed a law authorizing American vessels of war to capture French cruisers wherever they might be found. On the 11th, a new marine corps of nearly nine hundred men, rank and file, commanded by a major, was established by law, and a total of thirty active cruisers was provided for.

We have observed that some movements for strengthening the navy were begun early in 1797. The frigates United States, 44, Constitution, 44, and Constellation, 38, 5 were launched, and ordered to be put in commission that year. The United States first reached the water, and was the beginning of the American navy created after the adoption of the National Constitution. She was launched at Philadelphia on the 10th of July [1797.], and was followed in September by the Constellation and Constitution. The former was set afloat on the 7th of that month, at Baltimore, and the latter on the 20th, at Boston ; 6 yet none of these were ready for sea when, in the spring of 1798, war with France seemed inevitable.

An Indiaman, called the Ganges, was armed and equipped at Philadelphia as a 24-pounder, and placed in the command of Captain Richard Dale. She sailed on the 22d of May, to cruise along the coast from the east end of Long Island to the Capes of Virginia, to watch the approach of an enemy to the ports of New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. On the 12th of June Captain Dale received instructions off the Capes of Delaware to seize French cruisers and capture any of their prizes that might fall in his way.

The Constellation, 38, first went down the Patapsco on the morning of the 9th of April [1798.], and early in June went to sea under the command of Captain Thomas Truxtun, in company with the Delaware, 20, Captain Decatur, 7 each having orders similar to Dale’s. When only a few days out, Decatur fell in with the French corsair Le Croyable, 14, captured her, and sent her to Philadelphia as a prize. She was condemned by the prize court, added to the United States navy with the name of Retaliation, and placed under the command of Lieutenant William Bainbridge. She was the first vessel captured during the "French War of ’98," so called, and was the first vessel taken by the present navy of the United States.

Early in July the United States, 44, Captain John Barry, 8 went to sea, and cruised eastward. She carried among her officers several young men who afterward became distinguished in the annals of naval warfare. 9 The government soon afterward determined to send a force to the West Indies, where American commerce was most exposed, and Captain Barry was ordered there with a small squadron, consisting of the United States, 44, Delaware, 20, and Herald, 18.

The Constitution (yet in the service) went to sea in July, in command of Captain Samuel Nicholson, and, in company with four revenue vessels, sailed in August to cruise off the coast southward of the Virginia Capes. One of these vessels was in command of Lieutenant (afterward Commodore) Preble.

In August the Constitution, Captain Truxtun, and the Baltimore, 20, Captain Phillips, performed signal service by safely convoying sixty American merchant vessels from Havana to the United States, in the face of several French cruisers lying in that port. Both the British and French authorities in the West Indies were surprised at the appearance of so many American cruisers in that region. At the close of the year 1798 the American navy consisted of twenty-three vessels, with an aggregate armament of four hundred and forty-six guns.

It was at this time that the first of the series of most flagrant outrages upon the American flag, which finally aroused the people of the United States to vindicate their honor and independence by an appeal to arms, was committed by a British commander. The American ship Baltimore, Captain Phillips, sailed out of Havana on the morning of the 16th of November, 1798, in charge of a convoy bound to Charleston, South Carolina, and in sight of Moro Castle met a British squadron. At that time the governments of the United States and Great Britain were on friendly terms, and Phillips bore up to the Carnatick, the flag-ship of his majesty’s squadron, to speak to the commander. To his surprise, three of the convoy were cut off from the rest and captured by the British vessels. By invitation Phillips went on board the Carnatick, when he was informed that every man on board the Baltimore who had not a regular American protection should be transferred to the British flag-ship. Captain Phillips protested against the outrage, and declared that he would formally surrender his ship, and refer the matter to his government. His protest was of no avail. On returning to the Baltimore, he found a British officer mustering his men. He immediately ordered that gentleman and those who accompanied him to walk to the leeward, and then sent his men to their quarters. After consultation with a legal gentleman on board his ship, he determined to formally surrender her if his men were taken from him. Fifty-five of them were transferred to the Carnatick, and the colors of the Baltimore were lowered. Only five of her crew were retained by the British captain. These were pressed into the service of the king. The remainder were sent back, and the Baltimore was released. The British squadron then sailed away with the five captive seamen, and the three merchant vessels as prizes.

The Baltimore hastened to Philadelphia, and her case was laid before the government. At that time the trade between the United States and Great Britain was extremely profitable to American merchants; and the mercantile interest was such a power in the state that almost any indignity from the "mistress of the seas" would have been submitted to rather than provoke hostilities with that government. 10 The American Cabinet, in its obsequious deference to the British, had actually instructed the commanders of American cruisers on no account – not even to save a vessel of their own nation – to molest those of other nations, France excepted. 11 The government dismissed Captain Phillips from the navy without trial because he surrendered without a show of resistance; but the outrage of the British commander was passed by unnoticed!

At about the time of this occurrence near Havana, a small American squadron was cruising off Guadaloupe. One of the vessels was the captured Le Croyable, now the Retaliation, commanded by Lieutenant Bainbridge. They discovered some French cruisers, and mistook them for English vessels. The Retaliation reconnoitered them, and perceived her mistake too late to avoid trouble. She was attacked by two French frigates (the Volontaire and Insurgente), and was compelled to surrender. The Insurgente, to whom the Retaliation was a prize, was one of the swiftest vessels on the ocean. She immediately made chase after two of the American ships, who were pressing all sail in flight. Bainbridge was a prisoner on the Volontaire, and, with the officers of that vessel, witnessed the chase with great interest from the forecastle. The Insurgente continually gained upon the fugitives. "What are their armaments?" the commander of the Volontaire asked Bainbridge. "Twenty-eight twelves and twenty nines," he quickly responded. This false statement doubled their forces, and startled the commander. He was the senior of the captain of the Insurgente, and immediately signaled him to give up the chase. The order was reluctantly obeyed. The American vessels escaped, and Bainbridge’s deceptive reply cost him only a few curses. In this affair the Retaliation gained the distinction of being the first cruiser taken by both parties during the war.

The strength of the navy was considerably increased during the year 1799. Many vessels were launched, and most of them were commissioned before the close of autumn. At the beginning of the year the active force in the West Indies was distributed into four squadrons. Commodore Barry, the senior officer in the service, was in command of ten vessels, with an aggregate of two hundred and thirty-two guns, whose general rendezvous was St. Rupert’s Bay. Another squadron of five vessels, under Commodore Truxtun, in the Constellation, rendezvoused at St. Kitt’s, and cruised to leeward as far as Porto Rico. Captain Tingey, with a smaller force, cruised between Cuba and St. Domingo; and Captain Decatur, with some revenue vessels, watched the interests of American commerce off Havana. These squadrons captured many French vessels during the year.

At meridian on the 9th of February [1800.], while the Constellation was cruising off Nevis, a large vessel was discovered at the southward. Truxtun gave chase, and brought on an engagement at little past three in the afternoon. It lasted an hour and a quarter, when the antagonist of the Constellation struck her colors and surrendered. She was the famous French frigate Insurgente, Captain Barreault, just mentioned as the captor of the Retaliation a few weeks earlier. The gallant Frenchman did not yield until his fine ship was dreadfully shattered, and he had lost seventy men, killed and wounded. The Constellation had lost only three men wounded. The prize was put in charge of Lieutenant (afterward Commodore) Rodgers, and at the end of three days of tempest, danger, and suffering, she was taken into St. Kitt’s 12 (St. Christopher), and received a salute from the fort.

This victory produced great exultation in the United States, and the navy was declared to be equal to any in the world. The Insurgente carried 40 guns and 409 men; the Constellation only 32 guns and 309 men. The battle was fought with great skill and bravery on both sides. The press was filled with eulogiums of Truxtun. He received congratulatory addresses from all quarters, and the merchants of Lloyd’s Coffee-house, London, sent him a service of plate worth over three thousand dollars, on which a representation of the action was elegantly engraved. 13 The captives were loud in praises of Truxtun’s courtesy and kindness; 14 and for a long time a song, called "Truxtun’s Victory," was sung every where, in private and at public gatherings. 15

During the remainder of the year nothing of importance was performed by or befell our cruisers. In November Commodore Barry sailed from Newport [November 3, 1799.] for France in the United States, having Messrs. Wolcott and Davie, the two envoys, on board. He met with no adventures, and performed his errand with satisfaction. Meanwhile our cruisers were busy in the West Indies, watching the interests of American commerce there, and making the French corsairs exceedingly cautious and circumspect. At length another victory gave lustre to the American navy, rendering it very popular, and causing many leading families of the country to place their sons in the service. 16

The victory was again by Truxtun, in the Constellation. Early on the morning of the 1st of February, 1800, while off Guadaloupe seeking for the large French frigate La Vengeance, said to be in those waters, he discovered a sail to the south which he took to be an English merchantman. He ran up English colors, but receiving no response, he gave chase. The stranger pressed sail, and it was almost fifteen hours before the Constellation came within hailing distance of her. It was then discovered that she was a large French frigate. Truxtun, unabashed, prepared for action. It was opened by the Frenchman, at eight o’clock in the evening, by shots from the stern and quarter guns. A desperate engagement at pistol-shot distance ensued. It lasted until one in the morning, the combatants all the while running free, side by side, and pouring in broadsides. The French frigate suddenly ceased firing, and disappeared so completely in the gloom that Truxtun believed she had gone to the bottom of the sea. At that moment it was discovered that the Constellation’s shrouds had been nearly all cut away, and that the mainmast was ready to fall. A heavy squall came on, and the mast went by the board, carrying with it a midshipman and several topmen who were aloft. The stranger, dreadfully crippled, made her way to Curaçao, where she arrived on the 6th [February, 1800.] She was the sought-for frigate La Vengeance, carrying 54 guns and 400 men, including passengers. Captain Pitot, her commander, acknowledged that he had twice struck his flag during the engagement. She would have been a rich prize for the Constellation. It was lost only by the utterly helpless condition of that vessel’s mainmast. Truxtun bore away for Jamaica, and it was some time before he knew the name and character of his antagonist, and the prize he had lost. 17

This second victory over a superior foe gave Truxtun great renown at home and abroad, and the Congress of the United States, by action approved on the 29th of March, 1800, authorized the President to present him a gold medal "emblematical of the late action," with the thanks of the nation. 18

Other victories of less magnitude were won by the American cruisers during the earlier months of the year 1800, and contributed to make the little navy of the United States a subject for praise and wonder in Europe. But its services were now less needed, and efforts to increase the navy were sensibly relaxed during the summer of that year. Active negotiations for peace and amity were in progress between the United States and the First Consul of France, which led to a settlement of difficulties. The American envoys were cordially received, and three plenipotentiaries, with Joseph Bonaparte at their head, were appointed to treat with them. Many difficulties arose, and sometimes an utter failure of the effort seemed inevitable. Finally a convention was concluded, 19 peace was established, the envoys returned home, and the provisional army of the United States was disbanded.

Allusion has been made to the divisions in the Federal party on account of President Adams’s course in the appointment of diplomatic agents for negotiations with the French government before that government had officially signified its willingness to receive them. The instant dissatisfaction caused by that act only gave intensity to feelings already existing. Mr. Adams was an honest patriot, of much ability, but totally unfitted by temperament and disposition for the leadership of a great political party. He was excessively vain, and correspondingly sensitive and jealous. His vivid and sometimes eccentric imagination seldom yielded obedience to judgment. His prejudices were violent and inexorable, and his frankness made him indiscreet in his expressions of opinion concerning men and measures. He held resentment against Hamilton as relentless as did Jefferson, and he openly accused him of British proclivities, and hostility to the National Constitution. Because Wolcott, and Pickering, and Ames, and M‘Henry, and other leading Federalists could not agree with him concerning public policy, the President regarded them as personal enemies, actuated by selfish objects, and desirous of defeating his most earnest wishes, namely, a re-election to the seat he then occupied. Cunning Democrats fanned the flame of discord; and they strengthened Adams’s political aspirations by assuring him that he might unite the moderate and virtuous men of both parties, and thus crush the oligarchy of radical Federalists, to whom all national troubles should be attributed. 20

It was not long before confidence among the members of the Federal party was almost destroyed. Such were their divisions in the House of Representatives that, notwithstanding they had a decided majority there, they were not able, as Jefferson exultingly wrote, to carry a single measure during the session of 1799-1800. The simple truth appears to be that Adams would not be controlled by the leaders who claimed to have elevated him and his party to power. He exercised his own judgment as President without regard to party. His most ardent political partisans, now become his opponents, reciprocated his own suspicions, and believed that his conduct was prompted by jealousy of Hamilton, and a disposition to secure his own reelection at whatever sacrifice of principle, or at whatever risk to the Federal party. 21

These suspicions created zealous action. The most influential Federal leaders, two of whom (Timothy Pickering and James M‘Henry) were in Adams’s Cabinet, adopted a scheme for quietly preventing his re-election to the Presidency, which he ardently desired. The method of choosing the President and Vice-President, at that time, was for two persons to be voted for without distinction as to the office for which they were respectively intended; and the one receiving the highest number of votes was declared President, and the other Vice-President. 22 This plan gave facility to the scheme of Mr. Adams’s opponents. A caucus of the Federal members of Congress resolved to place Mr. Adams and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, of South Carolina, on the same ticket, with the understanding that both should receive the same number of votes, and thus cause the election to be carried to the House of Representatives, where Mr. Pinckney would have a considerable majority. Caution was necessary, for the foe was vigilant, and ever ready to take advantage of the weakness which dissensions would create in the Federal camp. Open opposition to Adams, whose high personal character was appreciated every where, and especially in New England, might have imperiled the success of the party. Mr. Adams, on the other hand, was aware of the intrigues against him, and that members of his Cabinet were leaders in the scheme; yet for once he was discreet enough not to denounce them openly, nor dismiss them from his council, for he was doubtful of his own strength in the powerful Middle States where they were popular, and where the Alien and Sedition Laws, which brought such odium upon his administration, were heartily detested. A Democratic caucus pursued a similar course, and selected Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, but with the understanding that the former was the choice of the party for President.

The Alien and Sedition Laws just alluded to were used adroitly by the Democrats to excite the people against Adams’s administration and the Federal party, and that use was made powerful in securing the election of Mr. Jefferson to the Presidency in the year 1800. 23

Most of the Presidential electors at that time were chosen by the respective State Legislatures, and not by the people, as now, and the contest was really commenced in the election of members to those bodies. New York was regarded as the custodian of the balance of political power, and the election of that state which occurred at the close of April, 1800, was looked to with great anxiety by both parties. A radical change had taken place. Burr, the most unscrupulous intriguer of the day, worked incessantly, and New York, which the year before gave the Federalists five hundred majority, now gave almost as great a majority for the Democrats. The latter were jubilant – the former were alarmed.

At this time the germ of a new party was distinctly visible in Virginia and the states south of it, which was born of slavery and the doctrine of independent state sovereignty. Virginia was its sponsor, and it allied itself to the Democratic party. And yet, strange as it may seem, Mr. Adams at this time looked to the Southern States for his forlorn hope in the coming election contest. Believing Pickering and M‘Henry to be unpopular there, he abruptly called upon them to resign. M‘Henry instantly complied, but Pickering refused. Adams dismissed him with little ceremony. 24 The event caused much excitement, and had considerable influence in reducing the Federal vote. Bitter animosities prevailed. Criminations and recriminations ensued.

The open war in the Federal party against Mr. Adams was waged by a few leaders, several of whom resided in Essex County, Massachusetts, the early home of Pickering, and on that account the irritated President called his assailants and opposers the "Essex Junto." He denounced them as slaves to British influence, some lured by monarchical proclivities, and others by English gold. Severe retorts followed; and a pamphlet from the pen of Hamilton, whom Adams had frequently assailed in conversation as a British sympathizer, and an enemy to the National Constitution, damaged the President’s political prospects materially.

The result of the canvass was the triumph of the Democratic party. Jefferson was elected President of the United States, and Aaron Burr Vice-President, 25 to the great joy of their partisans, who chanted, in effect,

"The Federalists are down at last!
The Monarchists completely cast!
The Aristocrats are stripped of power –
Storms o’er the British faction lower.
Soon we Republicans shall see
Columbia’s sons from bondage free.
Lord! how the Federalists will stare
At JEFFERSON in ADAMS’ chair!" – The Echo.

The mortification of the defeated party was intense, and new elements of strife soon mingled with the old causes of contention between the two parties. At these John Quincy Adams hinted when he said, "The election of Mr. Jefferson to the Presidency was, upon sectional feelings, the triumph of the South over the North, of the slave representation over the free. On party grounds, it was the victory of professed Democracy over Federalism, of French over British influence. The party overthrown was the whole Federal party. The whole Federal party was mortified and humiliated at the triumph of Jefferson." 26

After an existence of eight years as a distinct political organization, the original Federal party fell, never to rise again into power. Its noble monument is the machinery of the national government, which its wise men devised and set in motion, and which still performs its functions with admirable steadiness and increased power – machinery which the opposition declared to be weak and dangerous when they were in the minority, but which they adopted as sound and secure as soon as they came into power. The saying of English politicians, that a Tory in place becomes a Whig out of place, and a Whig when provided with a place becomes a Tory, was exemplified. 27

While the nation was thus agitated by contending factions and menaced by the tempests of war, the great light of the republic, by whose steady planetary gleams the vessel of state had been long guided, and saved from the rocks and quicksands of faction and anarchy, suddenly went out. In the darkness that fell without twilight – without premonition – every discordant voice was for a moment hushed, for awe placed the finger of silence upon the lips of political partisans of every kind. The National Congress was then in session at Philadelphia. Early on the morning of the 18th of December [1799.] – a cold, crisp, winter morning – a courier with smoking steed dashed up to the Presidential mansion, and delivered a letter from the private secretary 28 of the great leader, who had already been called PATER PATRIÆ. 29 The President was at breakfast. The seal was black wax. It was broken hastily by Mr. Adams, who read, "It is with inexpressible grief that I have to announce to you the death of the great and good General WASHINGTON. He died last evening, between ten and eleven o’clock, after a short illness of about twenty-four hours." 30

There was grief in the President’s household. There was grief in Congress when John Marshall announced [December 19.] "Our Washington is no more." There was grief in the streets of the national capital when the sad intelligence went from lip to ear all over the city within an hour after the arrival of the courier. There was grief throughout the nation when the knell of the funeral bells in cities and villages, with chilling monotone, fell upon the ears of the people. There was grief in Europe when, forty days afterward, it was known in England and on the Continent. Lord Bridport lowered to half mast the flags of his great English fleet of sixty vessels then lying in Torbay; and Bonaparte, just made First Consul of France, paid a beautiful tribute to the virtues of the beloved man in an order of the day to the French army, and in directing a funeral oration to be pronounced before him, and the civil and military authorities. 31 The Congress of his own country, by joint resolutions, decreed [December 23, 1799.] that a marble monument should be erected to his memory at the new Capitol on the Potomac; that there should be a funeral procession from Congress Hall to the German Lutheran Church, where an oration should be pronounced by one of the members of Congress; that the citizens of the United States should wear crape on their left arm as mourning for thirty days; and that the President should send a letter of condolence to Mrs. Washington, and request that her husband’s remains might be interred at the Capitol of the nation. 32 They also recommended the people of the United States to assemble on the next anniversary of Washington’s birthday [February 22, 1800.], "to testify their grief by suitable eulogies, orations, and discourses, or by public prayers."


General Henry Lee, the personal friend of Washington, and son of that "Lowland Beauty" whom the great patriot loved in his early youth, was the chosen orator. With rare eloquence he charmed the vast audience that thronged the Lutheran Church, the largest in Philadelphia. 33 The M‘Pherson Blues, 34 an elegant military corps of three hundred young men, were there as a guard of honor, and fired the accustomed military salute. On the ensuing 22d of February funeral orations were pronounced in many places throughout the country; and memorials of many kinds were speedily prepared, to perpetuate, by visible objects, the recollection of Washington’s virtues and illustrious deeds. 35 The faithful history of those deeds is his best eulogy. 36

"His glory fills the land – the plain,

The moor, the mountain, and the mart!
More firm than column, urn, or fane,
His monument – the human heart.
The Christian – patriot – hero – sage
The chief from heaven in mercy sent;
his deeds are written on the age –
His country is his monument."



1 It was the settled conviction of many of the wisest men of that day that the leaders of the opposition wished to overthrow the Constitution. "It is more and more evident," Hamilton wrote to Washington late in May, 1798, "that the powerful faction which has for years opposed the government is determined to go all lengths with France. I am sincere in declaring my full conviction, as the result of a long course of observation, that they are ready to new model our Constitution under the influence or coercion of France, to form with her a perpetual alliance, offensive and defensive, and to give her a monopoly over trade by peculiar and exclusive privileges. This would be in substance, whatever it might be in name, to make this country a province of France. Neither do I doubt that her standard, displayed in this country, would be, directly or indirectly, seconded by them, in pursuance of the project I have mentioned."

2 Hamilton to Washington, May 19, 1798.

3 England had for some time trembled violently before the wonderful operations of Bonaparte on the Continent. For a while invasion of the island seemed imminent. But when the cloud disappeared in the autumn of 1798, and scarcely a day passed without bringing intelligence of some new success of the British navy, the feeling of exultation was intense. The pencil of Gillray, the great caricaturist, was exceedingly active, and in quick succession he brought out several prints illustrating John Bull as being surfeited with his immense captures.


In one of these, entitled "John Bull taking a Luncheon; or, British Cooks cramming Old Grumble-gizzard with Bonne Chère," the representative of English nationality, a burly old fellow is seen sitting in a chair at a well-furnished table, while the naval cooks are zealous in their attentions. The hero of the Nile offers him a "fricassee à la Nelson," consisting of a large dish of battered French ships of the line. Another admiral offers him a "fricando à la Howe," "dessert à la Warren," "Dutch cheese à la Duncan," et cetera. John Bull is deliberately snapping up a frigate at a mouthful, and is evidently fattening on his diet. "What!" he exclaims, "more fricassees? Where do you think I shall find room to stow all you bring in?" By his side is an immense jug of brown stout to wash them down. Behind him is a picture of "Bonaparte in Egypt" suspended against the wall, nearly concealed by Nelson’s hat, which is hung over it. *

* The portion of this celebrated caricature here given, with the description, is copied from Wright’s England under the House of Hanover, ii., 298.

4 Mr. Henry declined the nomination because of his advanced age and increasing infirmities. Governor William R. Davie, of North Carolina, was appointed in Henry’s place. The commission then stood: Murray, of Maryland; Ellsworth, of Connecticut; and Davie, of North Carolina. Mr. Murray, still at the Hague, was instructed to inform Talleyrand of the appointment.

5 These numbers, 44, 38, etc., refer to the number of guns carried by each vessel, or, rather, the number they were rated at. The armament of vessels sometimes varies from the rate.

6 The Constellation was constructed by David Stodert.

7 Stephen Decatur was born at Newport, Rhode Island, in 1751. He commanded several privateers during the Revolution and captured several English ships. He received a commission as captain in the United States navy in 1798, and served with distinction during the hostilities with the French cruisers. In 1800 he commanded a squadron of thirteen sail on the Guadaloupe station, his flag-ship being the Philadelphia, 38. He left the service in 1801, and engaged in commercial pursuits in Philadelphia, where he died in 1808. A plain slab, near the noble granite monument erected to the memory of his distinguished son in St. Peter’s (Episcopal) Church burying-ground, marks the grave of the gallant captain and his wife, who died in 1812.

8 John Barry was born in Ireland, County of Wexford, in 1741. He came to America in his youth, as a seaman. In 1775 he entered the naval service of Congress, and it is a disputed point whether he was the first of the commanders who got to sea at that period. He was in active service during the whole war. In the establishment of the new navy in 1794 he was named the senior officer, in which station, in command of the United States, he died on the 18th of September, 1803, in the city of Philadelphia. He died childless, at the age of fifty-eight years.

Commodore Barry’s tomb is near the entrance to the cemetery of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, on Fourth Street, Philadelphia. The following is a copy of the inscription:


"Let the patriot, the soldier, and the Christian who visit these mansions of the dead, view this monument with respect. Beneath are deposited the remains of JOHN BARRY. He was born in the County of Wexford, in Ireland, but America was the object of his patriotism, and the theatre of his usefulness and honor. In the Revolutionary War, which established the independence of the United States, he bore the commission of a captain in their infant navy, and afterward became commander-in-chief. He fought often and once bled in the cause of freedom. But his habits of war did not lessen in time the peaceful virtues which adorn private life. He was gentle, kind, just, and charitable; and not less beloved by family and friends than by his grateful country. In a full belief in the doctrines of the Gospel, he calmly resigned his soul into the arms of his Redeemer on the 13th of September, 1803, in the fifty-ninth year of his age. His affectionate widow hath caused this marble to be erected, to perpetuate his name after the hearts of his fellow-citizens have ceased to be the living record of his public and private virtues."

9 Her first lieutenant was David Ross, who was last seen on the 30th of November, 1799; John Mullowny, who died in 1801, was her second lieutenant; her third was James Barron, afterward commodore; and her fourth was Charles Stewart, the venerable commodore, yet (1862) living. Among the midshipmen were Decatur, Somers, and Caldwell, who distinguished themselves at Tripoli. Jacob Jones and William M. Crane joined her soon afterward, both of whom became commodores.

10 The country had just entered upon a career of great commercial prosperity, notwithstanding many perils and hinderances beset that branch of national industry. American tunnage had doubled in ten years. American agricultural products found a ready market. The exports had increased from nineteen millions to almost ninety millions, and the imports in about the same proportion; and the amount of revenue from imports greatly exceeded the most sanguine anticipations.

11 "The vessels of every other nation (France excepted"), ran the instructions of the Secretary of the Navy, "are on no account to be molested; and I wish particularly to impress on your mind that, should you ever see an American vessel captured by the armed ship of any nation at war with whom we are at peace, you can not lawfully interfere to prevent the capture, for it is to be taken for granted that such nation will compensate for such capture if it shall prove to have been illegally made."

12 Cooper’s Naval History of the United States, i., 297; Truxtun’s dispatch to the Secretary of the Navy.

13 Wyatt’s Generals and Commodores of the American Army and Navy, p. 197.

14 "I am sorry," Captain Barreault wrote to Truxtun, "that our two nations are at war; but since I unfortunately have been vanquished, I felicitate myself and crew upon being prisoners to you. You have united all the qualities which characterize a man of honor, courage, and humanity. Receive from me the most sincere thanks, and be assured I shall make it a duty to publish to all my fellow-countrymen the generous conduct which you have observed toward us."

15 The song was not poetry, but touched a chord of popular sentiment which responded with great animation. The following is a single verse of the song, which contains eight:

"On board the Constellation from Baltimore we came;
We had a bold commander, and Truxtun was his name:

Our ship she mounted forty guns,
And on the main so swiftly runs,
To prove to France Columbia’s sons
Are brave Yankee boys."

16 "The Navy" became a favorite toast at public meetings, and pictures of naval battles and doggerel verses called "naval songs" were sold in the shops and streets. An enterprising crockery merchant had some pitchers of different sizes made in Liverpool, commemorative of the navy.


One of them, before me, that belonged to the late W. J. Davis, Esq., of New York, is a white pitcher, about a foot in height. Under the spout, in a wreath, are the words, "SUCCESS TO THE INFANT NAVY," and below this the American eagle, in form like that on the great seal of the United States. On one side is a picture of a full-rigged vessel of war, and some naval emblems in the foreground. On the other side is a map of the United States, having on one side Washington and Liberty, in full-length figures, Fame, with trumpet and wreath, above it; and on the other side Franklin sitting making a record, and a helmeted female, representing America, near which stands Justice. This device was upon pitchers made at about the time of Washington’s inauguration as the first President of the United States.

17 La Vengeance had on board the Governor of Guadaloupe and his family, and two general-officers, returning to France. She had also a full cargo of sugar and coffee, and a very large amount of specie. She lost, in killed and wounded, one hundred and sixty-two. The Constellation lost fourteen men killed and twenty- five wounded. Eleven of the latter died of their wounds. Among the lost was Midshipman Jarvis, of New York, who commanded the men in the top. He was warned by an old seaman that the mast would soon fall. He gallantly said, "Then we must go with it." They did so, and only one man was saved. Congress, by vote, recognized the bravery of young Jarvis, "who gloriously preferred certain death to an abandonment of his post."


18 This medal is represented in the engraving, the exact size of the original. On one side is a profile bust of Truxtun in relief, with the legend, "PATRIÆ PATRES FILIO DIGNO THOMAS TRUXTUN." On the reverse are seen two ships of war (the French a two-decker), both shattered, and the rigging of both much cut up. Legend: "THE UNITED STATES FRIGATE CONSTELLATION, OF THIRTY-EIGHT GUNS, PURSUES, ATTACKS, AND VANQUISHES THE FRENCH SHIP LA VENGEANCE, OF FIFTY-FOUR GUNS, 1ST OF FEBRUARY, 1800."

Thomas Truxtun was born at Jamaica, Long Island, on the 17th of February, 1753. He went to sea at the age of twelve years. During his apprenticeship he was impressed into the British service, but was soon released. He commanded a vessel in 1775, and brought considerable powder to the colonies at that time. He was engaged in privateering from Philadelphia during the whole war. While carrying Mr. Barclay, consul general of the United States, to France, he had a successful engagement with a British man-of-war. In 1794 he was appointed by Washington one of the six naval commanders, and the Constellation was built under his superintendence at Baltimore. His exploits in her are related in the text. The cruise which resulted in the defeat of La Vengeance was his last. In 1802 he was ordered to the command of a squadron destined for the Mediterranean. Being denied a captain to command his flag-ship, he declined the service. His letter to this effect was construed by President Jefferson as a resignation, which was accepted, and the American navy was deprived of one of its brightest ornaments. He retired to a farm not far from Philadelphia, where he remained in quiet until 1816, when the citizens of Philadelphia elected him high sheriff. He held that office three years, and died on the 5th of May, 1822, in the sixty-seventh year of his age.


He was buried in Christ Church-yard, Fifth Street, Philadelphia, where a plain upright slab of white marble marks his grave, on which is the following inscription: "Sacred to the memory of Commodore Thomas Truxtun, formerly of the United States Navy, who died May 5th, 1822, aged sixty-seven years." In considering the little sketch of Truxtun’s grave, the spectator is supposed to be standing with his back to Fifth Street looking east.

19 This convention was signed at Paris on the 30th of September, 1800, by Oliver Ellsworth, William R. Davie, and William Vans Murray, on the part of the United States, and Joseph Bonaparte, Charles P. E. Fleurieu, and Pierre L. Rœderer, in behalf of France. It provided that the old treaties should remain inoperative until a new negotiation should decide concerning them as well as indemnities mutually claimed. It provided for the mutual restoration of captured public ships and property not already condemned; for the mutual payment of all debts due by the respective governments and individuals thereof; for reciprocal commercial relations to be equal to those of the most favored nations, and for security of American commerce against the vexatious pretensions of French cruisers. The convention also declared that free ships should make free goods, thus affirming the doctrine of Frederick the Great fifty years earlier, and denying that of England in her famous rule of 1750, revived in 1793. – See the convention in full in the Statesman’s Manual, iv., 338.

20 Oliver Wolcott to Fisher Ames, Dec. 20, 1799.

21 Hildreth’s History of the United States, Second Series, ii., 355.

22 For the young reader, or a foreigner to whom the working of our political system in detail may not be familiar, an explanation here may be useful. The President of the United States is not voted for directly by the people. Persons in each state, in number equal to the respective senators and representatives in Congress, are elected by the people, and delegated with full powers to choose a President and Vice-President. These meet at a specified time, and form what is termed the Electoral College. Although the electors may vote for whom they please, the candidates named by the people are always voted for in the college, so that practically the people do vote directly for President and Vice-President. In the event of an equal number of votes being cast in the college for both candidates, the election is carried to the House of Representatives, in accordance with the provisions of the National Constitution, Article ii., section 1.

23 The action of Virginia and Kentucky politicians in the matter were so powerful at the time, and remote, even to our day, in their influence upon public opinion in a portion of the republic concerning the theory of our government, as to warrant the introduction here of the following brief history of the affair:

In the year 1798, when war with France seemed to be unavoidable, Congress passed acts for the security of the government against internal foes. By the first act alien enemies could not become citizens at all. By the second, which was limited to two years, the President was authorized to order out of the country all aliens whom he might judge to be dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States. By a third act, in case of war declared against the United States, or an actual invasion, all resident aliens, natives or citizens of the hostile nation, might, upon a proclamation of the President issued according to his discretion, be apprehended, and secured or removed. These were known as Alien Laws. The President never had occasion to employ them, but several prominent Frenchmen, who felt that the laws were aimed at them, speedily left the country. Among them was the celebrated French writer, M. Volney, who, in the preface to his View of the Soil and Climate of the United States of America, complained bitterly of the "violent and public attacks made upon his character, with the connivance or instigation of a certain eminent personage," meaning President Adams.

In July, 1798, an act was passed for the punishment of sedition. It made it a high misdemeanor, punishable by a fine not to exceed $5000, imprisonment from six months to five years, and binding to good behavior at the discretion of the court, for any persons unlawfully to combine in opposing measures of the government properly directed by authority, or attempting to prevent government officers executing their trusts, or inciting to riot or insurrection. It also provided for the fining or imprisoning any person guilty of printing or publishing "any false, scandalous, and malicious writings against the government of the United States, or either House of Congress, or the President, with intent to defame them, or to bring them into contempt or disrepute." This was called the Sedition Law.

The laws brought out the heaviest batteries of denunciation from the opposition, and were deplored by many of the Federalists. The wise Hamilton perceived the dangers that might arise from the enactment of the Sedition Law, and immediately wrote a hurried note of warning to Wolcott on the 29th of June, saying, "LET US NOT ESTABLISH A TYRANNY. Energy is a very different thing from violence. If we take no false step, we shall be essentially united; but if we push things to the extreme, we shall then give to faction body and solidity." The fears of Hamilton were realized. Nothing contributed more powerfully to the speedy downfall of the Federal party than these extreme measures.

The Alien and Sedition Laws aroused individual resentments, and led to the public avowal of the doctrine of independent and supreme state sovereignty in its most dangerous form. The right of "nullification" was as distinctly proclaimed by Jefferson and others as it ever was by Calhoun or Hayne. In a series of resolutions drawn up under the seal of secrecy as to their authorship, Mr. Jefferson declared the National Constitution to be a mere compact made by sovereign states as states, each having the sole right of interpreting for itself the "compact," and bound by no interpretation but its own; that the general government has no final right, in any of its branches, to interpret the extent of its own powers, and that all its acts not considered constitutional by a state may be properly nullified by such state within its own boundaries. These resolutions were offered to the Kentucky Legislature; but the one avowing the absolute right of nullification was modified, or rather substituted by another, before the whole were put upon their passage. This action was in November, 1798. Within a month afterward John Taylor, of Caroline, an avowed secessionist, introduced into the Virginia Legislature a series of resolutions drawn by Mr. Madison, similar in spirit, but more cautious in expression. They were adopted, and, with a plea in their favor, were sent to the various State Legislatures. In some of them they were handled roughly, and all that responded condemned them as unwarrantable and mischievous, excepting already-committed Kentucky. These were the famous "Resolutions of ’98," on which nullification in 1832 and secession in 1861 planted themselves and looked for justification. The whole movement was of a local and temporary nature. Jefferson and Madison were wielding dangerous weapons in their sturdy warfare for political power (for that was the animus of the whole matter); but they trusted the people, and believed, as Jefferson said in his inaugural, that great errors may be tolerated when reason is left free to combat them. That nullifiers and secessionists have no warrant for their doctrines in the action of the Virginia Legislature at that time Mr. Madison distinctly declared more than thirty years afterward. "The tenor of the debates," he said, "which were ably conducted, and are understood to have been revised for the press by most, if not all of the speakers, discloses no reference whatever to a constitutional right in an individual state to arrest by force the operation of a law of the United States." – See letter to Edward Everett, August, 1830, in Selections from the Private Correspondence of James Madison, published by J. C. M‘Guire, of Washington City, for private distribution.

24 John Marshall, who was soon afterward appointed Chief Justice of the United States, took Pickering’s place as Secretary of State, and Samuel Dexter was called to M‘Henry’s seat in the Cabinet as Secretary of War.

25 The Electoral College met, and their vote stood as follows: Jefferson, 73; Burr, 73; Adams, 65; Pinckney, 64: John Jay, 1. The votes for Jefferson and Burr being equal, the election, as provided by the Constitution, was carried into the House of Representatives. The occasion presented exciting scenes. On the first ballot eight states voted for Jefferson, six for Burr, and two (Vermont and Maryland) were divided. Two or three members were so sick that they were brought to the House on beds. For seven days the members were occupied in balloting. The Federalists all voted for Burr, as the least offensive of the two candidates, but the friends of Jefferson were stronger than they.

26 See Life of William Plummer, p. 310.

27 A London paper In 1813 contained the following poetic version of the maxim, under the head of Definition of Parties:

A Whig is never in! How strange the story!
Turn in a Whig – he turns in a Tory!

A Tory’s never out! Strange whirligig!
Turn out a Tory – he turns out a Whig!

Why then turn all our brains with senseless rout?
Tory and Whig are merely IN and OUT."

28 Tobias Lear.

29 The late G. W. P. Custis, the adopted son of Washington, in a letter to his foster-father written at Annapolis, where he was at school, on the 12th of July, 1798, after congratulating his guardian on his appointment to the command of the American army, said, "Let an admiring world again behold a Cincinnatus springing up from rural retirement to the conquest of nations; and the future historian, in recording so great a name, insert that of the ‘Father of his Country.’ "

30 Dated "Mount Vernon, December 15, 1799."

31 This oration was delivered by Louis Fontaine in the Temple of Mars, at Paris, on the 8th of February, 1800. In allusion to the young general and chief ruler of France before him, the orator said, in his peroration, "Yes, thy counsels shall be heard, O Washington! O warrior! O legislator! O citizen without reproach! He who, while yet young, rivals thee in battles, shall, like thee, with his triumphant bands, heal the wounds of his country. Even now we have his disposition, his character for the pledge; and his warlike genius, unfortunately necessary, shall soon lead sweet peace into this temple of war. Then the sentiment of universal joy shall obliterate the remembrance of oppression and injustice. Already the oppressed forget their ills in looking to the future. The acclamations of every age will be offered to the hero who gives happiness to France, and seeks to restore it to a contending world."

32 Mrs. Washington consented to the removal of her husband’s remains to the National Capitol. But they have never been taken from his beloved Mount Vernon. They never should be. That home of the illustrious patriot is now the property of the patriotic women of America, and should ever be consecrated by the presence of his tomb. The HOME and TOMB of our beloved friend should be inseparable, and these words of Lunt should express the sentiments of every American:

"Ay, leave him alone to sleep forever,

Till the strong archangel calls for the dead,
By the verdant bank of that gushing river
Where first they pillowed his mighty head."

33 That German Lutheran Church is yet standing on Fourth Street, Philadelphia, above Arch Street. Lee’s oration was hastily prepared, but was an admirable production. In it he used those memorable words, "FIRST IN WAR, FIRST IN PEACE, FIRST IN THE HEARTS OF HIS COUNTRYMEN." This oration may be found in Custis’s Recollections of Washington.

34 This corps was composed of the elite of Philadelphia society. The costume is represented in an engraving in Lossing’s Home of Washington, or Mount Vernon and its Associations. Six of those who were present on that occasion were yet living in January, 1862, and all were residents of Philadelphia, namely, Samuel Breck, aged ninety; S. Palmer, aged eighty-one; S. F. Smith, aged eighty-one; Charles N. Bancker, aged eighty-five: Quintan Campbell, aged eighty-five, and Robert Carr, aged eighty-four. John F. Watson, the annalist of Philadelphia and New York, and who died in December, 1860, was a member. Colonel Carr, who was an officer in the War of 1812, informed me that he was one of the squad who fired the volleys on that occasion. The costume of the M‘Pherson Blues is seen in the figure below.

35 Among many other tokens of respect published at that time was a silver medal, a little larger and thicker than the Spanish quarter of a dollar. One of these is in the possession of the writer, and is represented in the engraving.


On one side is a profile of Washington, inclosed in a wreath of laurel, and surrounded by the words, "HE IS IN GLORY, THE WORLD IN TEARS." On the reverse is a memorial urn, and around it, forming two circles, are abbreviations, seen in the engraving, signifying "Born February 11, 1732; General of the American Army, 1775; resigned 1783; President of the United States of America, 1789; retired in 1796; General of the Armies of the United States, 1798; died December 14, 1799." This medal was designed by Dudley A. Tyng, the collector of customs at Newburyport at that time, and engraved and published, immediately after the death of Washington, by Jacob Perkins, the well-known ingenious mechanic and engraver. He cut dies for this design of two sizes.

36 A contemporary wrote as follows concerning Washington’s person and character:

"GENERAL WASHINGTON in his person was tall, upright, and well-made: in manner easy and unaffected. His eyes were of a bluish cast, not prominent, indicative of deep thoughtfulness, and, when in action on great occasions, remarkably lively. His features strong, manly, and commanding; his temper reserved and serious; his countenance grave, composed, and sensible. There was in his whole appearance an unusual dignity and gracefulness which at once secured for him profound respect and cordial esteem. He seemed born to command his fellow-men. In his official capacity he received applicants for favors, and answered their requests with so much ease, condescension, and kindness, as that each retired believing himself a favorite of his chief. He had an excellent and well-cultivated understanding; a correct, discerning, and comprehensive mind; a memory remarkably retentive; energetic passions under perfect control; a judgment sober, deliberate, and sound. He was a man of the strictest honor and honesty; fair and honorable in his dealings; punctual to his engagements. His disposition was mild, kind, and generous. Candor, sincerity, moderation, and simplicity were, in common, prominent features in his character; but, when an occasion called, he was capable of displaying the most determined bravery, firmness, and independence. He was an affectionate husband, a faithful friend, a humane master, and a father to the poor. He lived in the unvarying habits of regularity, temperance, and industry. He steadily rose at the dawn of day, and retired to rest usually at nine o’clock in the evening. The intermediate hours all had their proper business assigned them. In his allotments for the revolving hours religion was not forgotten. Feeling, what he so often publicly acknowledged, his entire dependence on God, he daily, at stated seasons, retired to his closet to worship at His footstool, and to ask His divine blessing. He was remarkable for his strict observation of the Sabbath, and exemplary in his attendance on public worship."



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