THIRD ANNUAL ADDRESS.
UNITED STATES, December 3, 1799.
Gentlemen of the State and Gentlemen of the House of Representatives:
It is with peculiar satisfaction that I meet the Sixth Congress of the United States of America. Coming from all parts of the Union at this critical and interesting period, the members must be fully possessed of the sentiments and wishes of our constituents.
The flattering prospects of abundance from the labors of the people by land and by sea; the prosperity of our extended commerce, notwithstanding interruptions occasioned by the belligerent state of a great part of the world; the return of health, industry, and trade to those cities which have lately been afflicted with disease, and the various and inestimable advantages, civil and religious, which, secured under our happy frame of government, are continued to us unimpaired, demand of the whole American people sincere thanks to a benevolent Deity for the merciful dispensations of His providence.
But while these numerous blessings are recollected, it is a painful duty to advert to the ungrateful return which has been made for them by some of the people in certain counties of Pennsylvania, where, seduced by the arts and misrepresentations of designing men, they have openly resisted the law directing the valuation of houses and lands. Such defiance was given to the civil authority as rendered hopeless all further attempts by judicial process to enforce the execution of the law, and it became necessary to direct a military force to be employed, consisting of some companies of regular troops, volunteers, and militia, by whose zeal and activity, in cooperation with the judicial power, order and submission were restored and many of the offenders arrested. Of these, some have been convicted of misdemeanors, and others, charged with various crimes, remain to be tried.
To give due effect to the civil administration of Government and to insure a just execution of the laws, a revision and amendment of the judiciary system is indispensably necessary. In this extensive country it can not but happen that numerous questions respecting the interpretation of the laws and the rights and duties of officers and citizens must arise. On the one hand, the laws should be executed; on the other, individuals should be guarded from oppression. Neither of these objects is sufficiently assured under the present organization of the judicial department. I therefore earnestly recommend the subject to your serious consideration.
Persevering in the pacific and humane policy which had been invariably professed and sincerely pursued by the Executive authority of the United States, when indications were made on the part of the French Republic of a disposition to accommodate the existing differences between the two countries, I felt it to be my duty to prepare for meeting their advances by a nomination of ministers upon certain conditions which the honor of our country dictated, and which its moderation had given it a right to prescribe. The assurances which were required of the French Government previous to the departure of our envoys have been given through their minister of foreign relations, and I have directed them to proceed on their mission to Paris. They have full power to conclude a treaty, subject to the constitutional advice and consent of the Senate.
The characters of these gentlemen are sure pledges to their country that nothing incompatible with its honor or interest, nothing inconsistent with our obligations of good faith or friendship to any other nation, will be stipulated.
It appearing probable from the information I received that our commercial intercourse with some ports in the island of St. Domingo might safely be renewed, I took such steps as seemed to me expedient to ascertain that point. The result being satisfactory, I then, in conformity with the act of Congress on the subject, directed the restraints and prohibitions of that intercourse to be discontinued on terms which were made known by proclamation. Since the renewal of this intercourse our citizens trading to those ports, with their property, have been duly respected, and privateering from those ports has ceased.
In examining the claims of British subjects by the commissioners at Philadelphia, acting under the sixth article of the treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation with Great Britain, a difference of opinion on points deemed essential in the interpretation of that article has arisen between the commissioners appointed by the United States and the other members of that board, from which the former have thought it their duty to withdraw. It is sincerely to be regretted that the execution of an article produced by a mutual spirit of amity and justice should have been thus unavoidably interrupted. It is, however, confidently expected that the same spirit of amity and the same sense of justice in which it originated will lead to satisfactory explanations. In consequence of the obstacles to the progress of the commission in Philadelphia, His Britannic Majesty has directed the commissioners appointed by him under the seventh article of the treaty relating to the British captures of American vessels to withdraw from the board sitting in London, but with the express declaration of his determination to fulfill with punctuality and good faith the engagements which His Majesty has contracted by his treaty with the United States, and that they will be instructed to resume their functions whenever the obstacles which impede the progress of the commission at Philadelphia shall be removed. It being in like manner my sincere determination, so far as the same depends on me, that with equal punctuality and good faith the engagements contracted by the United States in their treaties with His Britannic Majesty shall be fulfilled, I shall immediately instruct our minister at London to endeavor to obtain the explanations necessary to a just performance of those engagements on the part of the United States. With such dispositions on both sides, I can not entertain a doubt that all difficulties will soon be removed and that the two boards will then proceed and bring the business committed to them respectively to a satisfactory conclusion.
The act of Congress relative to the seat of the Government of the United States requiring that on the first Monday of December next it should be transferred from Philadelphia to the District chosen for its permanent seat, it is proper for me to inform you that the commissioners appointed to provide suitable buildings for the accommodation of Congress and of the President and of the public offices of the Government have made a report of the state of the buildings designed for those purposes in the city of Washington, from which they conclude that the removal of the seat of Government to that place at the time required will be practicable and the accommodation satisfactory. Their report will be laid before you.
Gentlemen of the House of Representatives:
I shall direct the estimates of the appropriations necessary for the service of the ensuing year, together with an account of the revenue and expenditure, to be laid before you. During a period in which a great portion of the civilized world has been involved in a war unusually calamitous and destructive, it was not to be expected that the United States could be exempted from extraordinary burthens. Although the period is not arrived when the measures adopted to secure our country against foreign attacks can be renounced, yet it is alike necessary for the honor of the Government and the satisfaction of the community that an exact economy should be maintained. I invite you, gentlemen, to investigate the different branches of the public expenditure. The examination will lead to beneficial retrenchments or produce a conviction of the wisdom of the measures to which the expenditure relates.
Gentlemen of the Senate and Gentlemen of the House of Representatives:
At a period like the present, when momentous changes are occurring and every hour is preparing new and great events in the political world, when a spirit of war is prevalent in almost every nation with whose affairs the interests of the United States have any connection, unsafe and precarious would be our situation were we to neglect the means of maintaining our just rights. The result of the mission to France is uncertain, but however it may terminate, a steady perseverance in a system of national defense commensurate with our resources and the situation of our country is an obvious dictate of wisdom; for, remotely as we are placed from the belligerent nations, and desirous as we are, by doing justice to all, to avoid offense to any, nothing short of the power of repelling aggressions will secure to our country a rational prospect of escaping the calamities of war or national degradation. As to myself, it is my anxious desire so to execute the trust reposed in me as to render the people of the United States prosperous and happy. I rely with entire confidence on your cooperation in objects equally your care, and that our mutual labors will serve to increase and confirm union among our fellowcitizens and an unshaken attachment to our Government.
John Quincy Adams' Third State of the Union Address
Fellow Citizens of the Senate and of the House of Representatives:
A revolution of the seasons has nearly been completed since the representatives of the people and States of this Union were last assembled at this place to deliberate and to act upon the common important interests of their constituents. In that interval the never slumbering eye of a wise and beneficent Providence has continued its guardian care over the welfare of our beloved country the blessing of health has continued generally to prevail throughout the land the blessing of peace with our brethren of the human race has been enjoyed without interruption internal quiet has left our fellow citizens in the full enjoyment of all their rights and in the free exercise of all their faculties, to pursue the impulse of their nature and the obligation of their duty in the improvement of their own condition the productions of the soil, the exchanges of commerce, the vivifying labors of human industry, have combined to mingle in our cup a portion of enjoyment as large and liberal as the indulgence of Heaven has perhaps ever granted to the imperfect state of man upon earth and as the purest of human felicity consists in its participation with others, it is no small addition to the sum of our national happiness at this time that peace and prosperity prevail to a degree seldom experienced over the whole habitable globe, presenting, though as yet with painful exceptions, a foretaste of that blessed period of promise when the lion shall lie down with the lamb and wars shall be no more.
To preserve, to improve, and to perpetuate the sources and to direct in their most effective channels the streams which contribute to the public weal is the purpose for which Government was instituted. Objects of deep importance to the welfare of the Union are constantly recurring to demand the attention of the Federal Legislature, and they call with accumulated interest at the first meeting of the two Houses after their periodical renovation. To present to their consideration from time to time subjects in which the interests of the nation are most deeply involved, and for the regulation of which the legislative will is alone competent, is a duty prescribed by the Constitution, to the performance of which the first meeting of the new Congress is a period eminently appropriate, and which it is now my purpose to discharge.
Our relations of friendship with the other nations of the earth, political and commercial, have been preserved unimpaired, and the opportunities to improve them have been cultivated with anxious and unremitting attention. A negotiation upon subjects of high and delicate interest with the Government of Great Britain has terminated in the adjustment of some of the questions at issue upon satisfactory terms and the postponement of others for future discussion and agreement.
The purposes of the convention concluded at St. Petersburg on 1822-07-12, under the mediation of the late Emperor Alexander, have been carried into effect by a subsequent convention, concluded at London on 1826-11-13, the ratifications of which were exchanged at that place on 1827-02-06. A copy of the proclamations issued on 1827-03-19, publishing this convention, is herewith communicated to Congress. The sum of $1,204,960, therein stipulated to be paid to the claimants of indemnity under the first article of the treaty of Ghent, has been duly received, and the commission instituted, comformably to the act of Congress of 1827-03-02, for the distribution of the indemnity of the persons entitled to receive it are now in session and approaching the consummation of their labors. This final disposal of one of the most painful topics of collision between the United States and Great Britain not only affords an occasion of gratulation to ourselves, but has had the happiest effect in promoting a friendly disposition and in softening asperities upon other objects of discussion nor ought it to pass without the tribute of a frank and cordial acknowledgment of the magnanimity with which an honorable nation, by the reparation of their own wrongs, achieves a triumph more glorious than any field of blood can ever bestow.
The conventions of 1815-07-03, and of 1818-10-20, will expire by their own limitation on 1828-10-20. These have regulated the direct commercial intercourse between the United States and Great Britain upon terms of the most perfect reciprocity and they effected a temporary compromise of the respective rights and claims to territory westward of the Rocky Mountains. These arrangements have been continued for an indefinite period of time after the expiration of the above mentioned conventions, leaving each party the liberty of terminating them by giving twelve months' notice to the other.
The radical principle of all commercial intercourse between independent nations is the mutual interest of both parties. It is the vital spirit of trade itself nor can it be reconciled to the nature of man or to the primary laws of human society that any traffic should long be willingly pursued of which all the advantages are on one side and all the burdens on the other. Treaties of commerce have been found by experience to be among the most effective instruments for promoting peace and harmony between nations whose interests, exclusively considered on either side, are brought into frequent collisions by competition. In framing such treaties it is the duty of each party not simply to urge with unyielding pertinacity that which suits its own interest, but to concede liberally to that which is adapted to the interest of the other.
To accomplish this, little more is generally required than a simple observance of the rule of reciprocity, and were it possible for the states- men of 1 nation by stratagem and management to obtain from the weakness or ignorance of another an over-reaching treaty, such a compact would prove an incentive to war rather than a bond of peace.
Our conventions with Great Britain are founded upon the principles of reciprocity. The commercial intercourse between the two countries is greater in magnitude and amount than between any two other nations on the globe. It is for all purposes of benefit or advantage to both as precious, and in all probability far more extensive, than if the parties were still constituent parts of one and the same nation. Treaties between such States, regulating the intercourse of peace between them and adjusting interests of such transcendent importance to both, which have been found in a long experience of years mutually advantageous, should not be lightly cancelled or discontinued. Two conventions for continuing in force those above mentioned have been concluded between the plenipotentiaries of the two Governments on 1827-08-06, and will be forthwith laid before the Senate for the exercise of their constitutional authority concerning them.
In the execution of the treaties of peace of 1782-11 and 1783-09, between the United States and Great Britain, and which terminated the war of our independence, a line of boundary was drawn as the demarcation of territory between the two countries, extending over nearly 20 degrees of latitude, and ranging over seas, lakes, and mountains, then very imperfectly explored and scarcely opened to the geographical knowledge of the age. In the progress of discovery and settlement by both parties since that time several questions of boundary between their respective territories have arisen, which have been found of exceedingly difficult adjustment.
At the close of the last war with Great Britain four of these questions pressed themselves upon the consideration of the negotiators of the treaty of Ghent, but without the means of concluding a definitive arrangement concerning them. They were referred to three separate commissions consisting, of two commissioners, one appointed by each party, to examine and decide upon their respective claims. In the event of a disagreement between the commissioners, one appointed by each party, to examine and decide upon their respective claims. In the event of a disagreement between the commissioners it was provided that they should make reports to their several Governments, and that the reports should finally be referred to the decision of a sovereign the common friend of both.
Of these commissions two have already terminated their sessions and investigations, one by entire and the other by partial agreement. The commissioners of the 5th article of the treaty of Ghent have finally disagreed, and made their conflicting reports to their own Governments. But from these reports a great difficulty has occurred in making up a question to be decided by the arbitrator. This purpose has, however, been effected by a 4th convention, concluded at London by the plenipotentiaries of the two Governments on 1827-09-29. It will be submitted, together with the others, to the consideration of the Senate.
While these questions have been pending incidents have occurred of conflicting pretensions and of dangerous character upon the territory itself in dispute between the two nations. By a common understanding between the Governments it was agreed that no exercise of exclusive jurisdiction by either party while the negotiation was pending should change the state of the question of right to be definitively settled. Such collision has, never the less, recently taken place by occurrences the precise character of which has not yet been ascertained. A communication from the governor of the State of Maine, with accompanying documents, and a correspondence between the Secretary of State and the minister of Great Britain on this subject are now communicated. Measures have been taken to ascertain the state of the facts more correctly by the employment of a special agent to visit the spot where the alleged outrages have occurred, the result of those inquiries, when received, will be transmitted to Congress.
While so many of the subjects of high interest to the friendly relations between the two countries have been so far adjusted, it is a matter of regret that their views respecting the commercial intercourse between the United States and the British colonial possessions have not equally approximated to a friendly agreement.
At the commencement of the last session of Congress they were informed of the sudden and unexpected exclusion by the British Government of access in vessels of the United States to all their colonial ports except those immediately bordering upon our own territories. In the amicable discussions which have succeeded the adoption of this measure which, as it affected harshly the interests of the United States, became subject of expostulation on our part, the principles upon which its justification has been placed have been of a diversified character. It has been at once ascribed to a mere recurrence to the old, long established principle of colonial monopoly and at the same time to a feeling of resentment because the offers of an act of Parliament opening the colonial ports upon certain conditions had not been grasped at with sufficient eagerness by an instantaneous conformity to them.
At a subsequent period it has been intimated that the new exclusion was in resentment because a prior act of Parliament, of 1822, opening certain colonial ports, under heavy and burdensome restrictions, to vessels of the United States, had not been reciprocated by an admission of British vessels from the colonies, and their cargoes, without any restriction or discrimination what ever. But be the motive for the interdiction what it may, the British Government have manifested no disposition, either by negotiation or by corresponding legislative enactments, to recede from it, and we have been given distinctly to understand that neither of the bills which were under the consideration of Congress at their last session would have been deemed sufficient in their concessions to have been rewarded by any relaxation from the British interdict. It is one of the inconveniences inseparably connected with the attempt to adjust by reciprocal legislation interests of this nature that neither party can know what would be satisfactory to the other, and that after enacting a statute for the avowed and sincere purpose of conciliation it will generally be found utterly inadequate to the expectation of the other party, and will terminate in mutual disappointment.
The session of Congress having terminated without any act upon the subject, a proclamation was issued on 1827-03-17, conformably to the provisions of the 6th section of the act of 1823-03-01 declaring the fact that the trade and intercourse authorized by the British act of Parliament of 1822-06-24, between the United States and the British enumerated colonial ports had been by the subsequent acts of Parliament of 1825-07-05, and the order of council of 1826-07-27 prohibited. The effect of this proclamation, by the terms of the act under which it was issued, has been that each and every provision of the act concerning navigation of 1818-04-18, and of the act supplementary thereto of 1820-05-15, revived and is in full force.
Such, then is the present condition of the trade that, useful as it is to both parties it can, with a single momentary exception, be carried on directly by the vessels of neither. That exception itself is found in a proclamation of the governor of the island of St. Christopher and of the Virgin Islands, inviting for 3 months from 1827-08-28 the importation of the articles of the produce of the United States which constitute their export portion of this trade in the vessels of all nations.
That period having already expired, the state of mutual interdiction has again taken place. The British Government have not only declined negotiation upon this subject, but by the principle they have assumed with reference to it have precluded even the means of negotiation. It becomes not the self respect of the United States either to solicit gratuitous favors or to accept as the grant of a favor that for which an ample equivalent is exacted. It remains to be determined by the respective Governments whether the trade shall be opened by acts of reciprocal legislation. It is, in the mean time, satisfactory to know that apart from the inconvenience resulting from a disturbance of the usual channels of trade no loss has been sustained by the commerce, the navigation, or the revenue of the United States, and none of magnitude is to be apprehended from this existing state of mutual interdict.
With the other maritime and commercial nations of Europe our intercourse continues with little variation. Since the cessation by the convention of 1822-06-24, of all discriminating duties upon the vessels of the United States and of France in either country our trade with that nation has increased and is increasing. A disposition on the part of France has been manifested to renew that negotiation, and in acceding to the proposal we have expressed the wish that it might be extended to other subjects upon which a good understanding between the parties would be beneficial to the interests of both.
The origin of the political relations between the United States and France is coeval with the first years of our independence. The memory of it is interwoven with that of our arduous struggle for national existence. Weakened as it has occasionally been since that time, it can by us never be forgotten, and we should hail with exultation the moment which should indicate a recollection equally friendly in spirit on the part of France.
A fresh effort has recently been made by the minister of the United States residing at Paris to obtain a consideration of the just claims of citizens of the United States to the reparation of wrongs long since committed, many of them frankly acknowledged and all of them entitled upon every principle of justice to a candid examination. The proposal last made to the French Government has been to refer the subject which has formed an obstacle to this consideration to the determination of a sovereign the common friend of both. To this offer no definitive answer has yet been received, but the gallant and honorable spirit which has at all times been the pride and glory of France will not ultimately permit the demands of innocent sufferers to be extinguished in the mere consciousness of the power to reject them.
A new treaty of amity, navigation, and commerce has been concluded with the Kingdom of Sweden, which will be submitted to the Senate for their advice with regard to its ratification. At a more recent date a minister plenipotentiary from the Hanseatic Republics of Hamburg, Lubeck, and Bremen has been received, charged with a special mission for the negotiation of a treaty of amity and commerce between that ancient and renowned league and the United States. This negotiation has accordingly been commenced, and is now in progress, the result of which will, if successful, be also submitted to the Senate for their consideration.
Since the accession of the Emperor Nicholas to the imperial throne of all the Russias the friendly dispositions toward the United States so constantly manifested by his predecessor have continued unabated, and have been recently testified by the appointment of a minister plenipotentiary to reside at this place. From the interest taken by this Sovereign in behalf of the suffering Greeks and from the spirit with which others of the great European powers are cooperating with him the friends of freedom and of humanity may indulge the hope that they will obtain relief from that most unequal of conflicts which they have so long and so gallantly sustained that they will enjoy the blessing of self government, which by their sufferings in the cause of liberty they have richly earned, and that their independence will be secured by those liberal institutions of which their country furnished the earliest examples in the history of man-kind, and which have consecrated to immortal remembrance the very soil for which they are now again profusely pouring forth their blood. The sympathies which the people and Government of the United States have so warmly indulged with their cause have been acknowledged by their Government in a letter of thanks, which I have received from their illustrious President, a translation of which is now communicated to Congress, the representatives of that nation to whom this tribute of gratitude was intended to be paid, and to whom it was justly due.
In the American hemisphere the cause of freedom and independence has continued to prevail, and if signalized by none of those splendid triumphs which had crowned with glory some of the preceding years it has only been from the banishment of all external force against which the struggle had been maintained. The shout of victory has been superseded by the expulsion of the enemy over whom it could have been achieved.
Our friendly wishes and cordial good will, which have constantly followed the southern nations of America in all the vicissitudes of their war of independence, are succeeded by a solicitude equally ardent and cordial that by the wisdom and purity of their institutions they may secure to themselves the choicest blessings of social order and the best rewards of virtuous liberty. Disclaiming alike all right and all intention of interfering in those concerns which it is the prerogative of their independence to regulate as to them shall seem fit, we hail with joy every indication of their prosperity, of their harmony, of their persevering and inflexible homage to those principles of freedom and of equal rights which are alone suited to the genius and temper of the American nations.
It has been, therefore, with some concern that we have observed indications of intestine divisions in some of the Republics of the south, and appearances of less union with one another than we believe to be the interest of all. Among the results of this state of things has been that the treaties concluded at Panama do not appear to have been ratified by the contracting parties, and that the meeting of the congress at Tacubaya has been indefinitely postponed. In accepting the invitations to be represented at this congress, while a manifestation was intended on the part of the United States of the most friendly disposition toward the southern Republics by whom it had been proposed, it was hoped that it would furnish an opportunity for bringing all the nations of this hemisphere to the common acknowledgment and adoption of the principles in the regulation of their internal relations which would have secured a lasting peace and harmony between them and have promoted the cause of mutual benevolence throughout the globe. But as obstacles appear to have arisen to the reassembling of the congress, one of the 2 ministers commissioned on the part of the United States has returned to the bosom of his country, while the minister charged with the ordinary mission to Mexico remains authorized to attend the conferences of the congress when ever they may be resumed.
A hope was for a short time entertained that a treaty of peace actually signed between the Government of Buenos Ayres and of Brazil would supersede all further occasion for those collisions between belligerent pretensions and neutral rights which are so commonly the result of maritime war, and which have unfortunately disturbed the harmony of the relations between the United States and the Brazilian Governments. At their last session Congress were informed that some of the naval officers of that Empire had advanced and practiced upon principles in relation to blockades and to neutral navigation which we could not sanction, and which our commanders found it necessary to resist. It appears that they have not been sustained by the Government of Brazil itself. Some of the vessels captured under the assumed authority of these erroneous principles have been restored, and we trust that our just expectations will be realized that adequate indemnity will be made to all the citizens of the United States who have suffered by the unwarranted captures which the Brazilian tribunals themselves have pronounced unlawful.
In the diplomatic discussions at Rio de Janeiro of these wrongs sustained by citizens of the United States and of others which seemed as if emanating immediately from that Government itself the charge' d'affaires of the United States, under an impression that his representations in behalf of the rights and interests of his country-men were totally disregarded and useless, deemed it his duty, without waiting for instructions, to terminate his official functions, to demand his pass- ports, and return to the United States. This movement, dictated by an honest zeal for the honor and interests of his country — motives which operated exclusively on the mind of the officer who resorted to it — has not been disapproved by me.
The Brazilian Government, however, complained of it as a measure for which no adequate intentional cause had been given by them, and upon an explicit assurance through their charge' d'affaires residing here that a successor to the late representative of the United States near that Government, the appointment of whom they desired, should be received and treated with the respect due to his character, and that indemnity should be promptly made for all injuries inflicted on citizens of the United States or their property contrary to the laws of nations, a temporary commission as charge' d'affaires to that country has been issued, which it is hopes will entirely restore the ordinary diplomatic intercourse between the 2 Governments and the friendly relations between their respective nations.
Turning from the momentous concerns of our Union in its intercourse with foreign nations to those of the deepest interest in the administration of our internal affairs, we find the revenues of the present year corresponding as nearly as might be expected with the anticipations of the last, and presenting an aspect still more favorable in the promise of the next.
The balance in the Treasury on 1827-01-01 was $6,358,686.18. The receipts from that day to 1827-09-30, as near as the returns of them yet received can show, amount to $16,886,581.32. The receipts of the present quarter, estimated at $4,515,000, added to the above form an aggregate of $21,400,000 of receipts.
The expenditures of the year may perhaps amount to $22,300,000 presenting a small excess over the receipts. But of these $22,000,000, upward of $6,000,000 have been applied to the discharge of the principal of the public debt, the whole amount of which, approaching $74,000,000 on 1827-01-01, will on 1828-01-01 fall short of $67,500,000. The balance in the Treasury on 1828-01-01 it is expected will exceed $5,450,000, a sum exceeding that of 1825-01-01, though falling short of that exhibited on 1827-01-01.
It was foreseen that the revenue of the present year 1827 would not equal that of the last, which had itself been less than that of the next preceding year. But the hope has been realized which was entertained, that these deficiencies would in no wise interrupt the steady operation of the discharge of the public debt by the annual $10,000,000 devoted to that object by the act of 1817-03-03.
The amount of duties secured on merchandise imported from the commencement of the year until 1827-09-30 is $21,226,000, and the probably amount of that which will be secured during the remainder of the year is $5,774,000, forming a sum total of $27,000,000. With the allowances for draw-backs and contingent deficiencies which may occur, though not specifically foreseen, we may safely estimate the receipts of the ensuing year at $22,300,000 — a revenue for the next equal to the expenditure of the present year.
The deep solicitude felt by our citizens of all classes throughout the Union for the total discharge of the public debt will apologize for the earnestness with which I deem it my duty to urge this topic upon the consideration of Congress — of recommending to them again the observance of the strictest economy in the application of the public funds. The depression upon the receipts of the revenue which had commenced with the year 1826 continued with increased severity during the two first quarters of the present year.
The returning tide began to flow with the third quarter, and, so far as we can judge from experience, may be expected to continue through the course of the ensuing year. In the mean time an alleviation from the burden of the public debt will in the three years have been effected to the amount of nearly $16,000,000, and the charge of annual interest will have been reduced upward of $1,000,000. But among the maxims of political economy which the stewards of the public moneys should never suffer without urgent necessity to be transcended is that of keeping the expenditures of the year within the limits of its receipts.
The appropriations of the two last years, including the yearly $10,000,000 of the sinking fund, have each equaled the promised revenue of the ensuing year. While we foresee with confidence that the public coffers will be replenished from the receipts as fast as they will be drained by the expenditures, equal in amount to those of the current year, it should not be forgotten that they could ill suffer the exhaustion of larger disbursements.
The condition of the Army and of all the branches of the public service under the superintendence of the Secretary of War will be seen by the report from that officer and the documents with which it is accompanied.
During the last summer a detachment of the Army has been usefully and successfully called to perform their appropriate duties. At the moment when the commissioners appointed for carrying into execution certain provisions of the treaty of 1825-08-19, with various tribes of the NorthWestern Indians were about to arrive at the appointed place of meeting the unprovoked murder of several citizens and other acts of unequivocal hostility committed by a party of the Winnebago tribe, one of those associated in the treaty, followed by indications of a menacing character among other tribes of the same region, rendered necessary an immediate display of the defensive and protective force of the Union in that quarter.
It was accordingly exhibited by the immediate and concerted movements of the governors of the State of Illinois and of the Territory of Michigan, and competent levies of militia, under their authority, with a corps of 700 men of United States troops, under the command of General Atkinson, who, at the call of Governor Cass, immediately repaired to the scene of danger from their station at St. Louis. Their presence dispelled the alarms of our fellow citizens on those disorders, and overawed the hostile purposes of the Indians. The perpetrators of the murders were surrendered to the authority and operation of our laws, and every appearance of purposed hostility from those Indian tribes has subsided.
Although the present organization of the Army and the administration of its various branches of service are, upon the whole, satisfactory, they are yet susceptible of much improvement in particulars, some of which have been heretofore submitted to the consideration of Congress, and others are now first presented in the report of the Secretary of War.
The expediency of providing for additional numbers of officers in the two corps of engineers will in some degree depend upon the number and extent of the objects of national importance upon which Congress may think it proper that surveys should be made conformably to the act of 1824-04-30. Of the surveys which before the last session of Congress had been made under the authority of that act, reports were made —
- Of the Board of Internal Improvement, on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.
- On the continuation of the national road from Cumberland to the tide waters within the District of Columbia.
- On the continuation of the national road from Canton to Zanesville.
- On the location of the national road from Zanesville to Columbus.
- On the continuation of the same to the seat of government in Missouri.
- On a post road from Baltimore to Philadelphia.
- Of a survey of Kennebec River (in part).
- On a national road from Washington to Buffalo.
- On the survey of Saugatuck Harbor and River.
- On a canal from Lake PontChartrain to the Mississippi River.
- On surveys at Edgartown, Newburyport, and Hyannis Harbor.
- On survey of La Plaisance Bay, in the Territory of Michigan.
And reports are now prepared and will be submitted to Congress —
- On surveys of the peninsula of Florida, to ascertain the practicability of a canal to connect the waters of the Atlantic with the Gulf of Mexico across that peninsula and also of the country between the bays of Mobile and of Pensacola, with the view of connecting them together by a canal.
- On surveys of a route for a canal to connect the waters of James and Great Kenhawa rivers.
- On the survey of the Swash, in Pamlico Sound, and that of Cape Fear, below the town of Wilmington, in North Carolina.
- On the survey of the Muscle Shoals, in the Tennessee River, and for a route for a contemplated communication between the
Hiwassee and Coosa rivers, in the State of Alabama.
Other reports of surveys upon objects pointed out by the several acts of Congress of the last and preceding sessions are in the progress of preparation, and most of them may be completed before the close of this session. All the officers of both corps of engineers, with several other persons duly qualified, have been constantly employed upon these services from the passage of the act of 1824-04-30, to this time. Were no other advantage to accrue to the country from their labors than the fund of topographical knowledge which they have collected and communicated, that alone would have been a profit to the Union more than adequate to all the expenditures which have been devoted to the object but the appropriations for the repair and continuation of the Cumberland road, for the construction of various other roads, for the removal of obstructions from the rivers and harbors, for the erection of light houses, beacons, piers, and buoys, and for the completion of canals undertaken by individual associations, but needing the assistance of means and resources more comprehensive than individual enterprise can command, may be considered rather as treasures laid up from the contributions of the present age for the benefit of posterity than as unrequited applications of the accruing revenues of the nation.
To such objects of permanent improvement to the condition of the country, of real addition to the wealth as well as to the comfort of the people by whose authority and resources they have been effected, from $3,000,000 to $4,000,000 of the annual income of the nation have, by laws enacted at the three most recent sessions of Congress, been applied, without intrenching upon the necessities of the Treasury, without adding a dollar to the taxes or debts of the community, without suspending even the steady and regular discharge of the debts contracted in former days, which within the same three years have been diminished by the amount of nearly $16,000,000.
The same observations are in a great degree applicable to the appropriations made for fortifications upon the coasts and harbors of the United States, for the maintenance of the Military Academy at West Point, and for the various objects under the superintendence of the Department of the Navy. The report from the Secretary of the Navy and those from the subordinate branches of both the military departments exhibit to Congress in minute detail the present condition of the public establishments dependent upon them, the execution of the acts of Congress relating to them, and the views of the officers engaged in the several branches of the service concerning the improvements which may tend to their perfection.
The fortification of the coasts and the gradual increase and improvement of the Navy are parts of a great system of national defense which has been upward of 10 years in progress, and which for a series of years to come will continue to claim the constant and persevering protection and superintendence of the legislative authority. Among the measures which have emanated from these principles the act of the last session of Congress for the gradual improvement of the Navy holds a conspicuous place. The collection of timber for the future construction of vessels of war, the preservation and reproduction of the species of timber peculiarly adapted to that purpose, the construction of dry docks for the use of the Navy, the erection of a marine railway for the repair of the public ships, and the improvement of the navy yards for the preservation of the public property deposited in them have all received from the Executive the attention required by that act, and will continue to receive it, steadily proceeding toward the execution of all its purposes.
The establishment of a naval academy, furnishing the means of theoretic instruction to the youths who devote their lives to the service of their country upon the ocean, still solicits the sanction of the Legislature. Practical seamanship and the art of navigation may be acquired on the cruises of the squadrons which from time to time are dispatched to distant seas, but a competent knowledge even of the art of ship building, the higher mathematics, and astronomy the literature which can place our officers on a level of polished education with the officers of other maritime nations the knowledge of the laws, municipal and national, which in their intercourse with foreign states and their governments are continually called into operation, and, above all, that acquaintance with the principles of honor and justice, with the higher obligations of morals and of general laws, human and divine, which constitutes the great distinction between the warrior-patriot and the licensed robber and pirate — these can be systematically taught and eminently acquired only in a permanent school, stationed upon the shore and provided with the teachers, the instruments, and the books conversant with and adapted to the communication of the principles of these respective sciences to the youthful and inquiring mind.
The report from the PostMaster General exhibits the condition of that Department as highly satisfactory for the present and still more promising for the future. Its receipts for the year ending 1827-07-01 amounted to $1,473,551, and exceeded its expenditures by upward of $100,000. It can not be an over sanguine estimate to predict that in less than 10 years, of which half have elapsed, the receipts will have been more than doubled.
In the mean time a reduced expenditure upon established routes has kept pace with increased facilities of public accommodation and additional services have been obtained at reduced rates of compensation. Within the last year the transportation of the mail in stages has been greatly augmented. The number of post offices has been increased to 7,000, and it may be anticipated that while the facilities of intercourse between fellow citizens in person or by correspondence will soon be carried to the door of every villager in the Union, a yearly surplus of revenue will accrue which may be applied as the wisdom of Congress under the exercise of their constitutional powers may devise for the further establishment and improvement of the public roads, or by adding still further to the facilities in the transportation of the mails. Of the indications of the prosperous condition of our country, none can be more pleasing than those presented by the multiplying relations of personal and intimate intercourse between the citizens of the Union dwelling at the remotest distances from each other.
Among the subjects which have heretofore occupied the earnest solicitude and attention of Congress is the management and disposal of that portion of the property of the nation which consists of the public lands. The acquisition of them, made at the expense of the whole Union, not only in treasury but in blood, marks a right of property in them equally extensive. By the report and statements from the General Land Office now communicated it appears that under the present Government of the United States a sum little short of $33,000,000 has been paid from the common Treasury for that portion of this property which has been purchased from France and Spain, and for the extinction of the aboriginal titles. The amount of lands acquired is near 260,000,000 acres, of which on 1826-01-01, about 139,000,000 acres had been surveyed, and little more than 19,000,000 acres had been sold. The amount paid into the Treasury by the purchasers of the public lands sold is not yet equal to the sums paid for the whole, but leaves a small balance to be refunded. The proceeds of the sales of the lands have long been pledged to the creditors of the nation, a pledge from which we have reason to hope that they will in a very few years be redeemed.
The system upon which this great national interest has been managed was the result of long, anxious, and persevering deliberation. Matured and modified by the progress of our population and the lessons of experience, it has been hitherto eminently successful. More than 9/10 of the lands still remain the common property of the Union, the appropriation and disposal of which are sacred trusts in the hands of Congress.
Of the lands sold, a considerable part were conveyed under extended credits, which in the vicissitudes and fluctuations in the value of lands and of their produce became oppressively burdensome to the purchasers. It can never be the interest or the policy of the nation to wring from its own citizens the reasonable profits of their industry and enterprise by holding them to the rigorous import of disastrous engagements. In 1821-03, a debt of $22,000,000, due by purchasers of the public lands, had accumulated, which they were unable to pay. An act of Congress of 1821-03-02, came to their relief, and has been succeeded by others, the latest being the act of 1826-05-04, the indulgent provisions of which expired on 1827-07-04. The effect of these laws has been to reduce the debt from the purchasers to a remaining balance of about $4,300,000 due, more than 3/5 of which are for lands within the State of Alabama. I recommend to Congress the revival and continuance for a further term of the beneficent accommodations to the public debtors of that statute, and submit to their consideration, in the same spirit of equity, the remission, under proper discriminations, of the forfeitures of partial payments on account of purchases of the public lands, so far as to allow of their application to other payments.
There are various other subjects of deep interest to the whole Union which have heretofore been recommended to the consideration of Congress, as well by my predecessors as, under the impression of the duties devolving upon me, by myself. Among these are the debt, rather of justice than gratitude, to the surviving warriors of the Revolutionary war the extension of the judicial administration of the Federal Government to those extensive since the organization of the present judiciary establishment, now constitute at least 1/3 of its territory, power, and population the formation of a more effective and uniform system for the government of the militia, and the amelioration in some form or modification of the diversified and often oppressive codes relating to insolvency. Amidst the multiplicity of topics of great national concernment which may recommend themselves to the calm and patriotic deliberations of the Legislature, it may suffice to say that on these and all other measures which may receive their sanction my hearty cooperation will be given, conformably to the duties enjoined upon me and under the sense of all the obligations prescribed by the Constitution.
Presidential Vetoes/tiles/non-collection/f/fdr_vetomessage_2008_231_002.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object In 1935, FDR came to the House Chamber to deliver his veto message in person.
Article I, section 7 of the Constitution grants the President the authority to veto legislation passed by Congress. This authority is one of the most significant tools the President can employ to prevent the passage of legislation. Even the threat of a veto can bring about changes in the content of legislation long before the bill is ever presented to the President. The Constitution provides the President 10 days (excluding Sundays) to act on legislation or the legislation automatically becomes law. There are two types of vetoes: the “regular veto” and the “pocket veto.”
The regular veto is a qualified negative veto. The President returns the unsigned legislation to the originating house of Congress within a 10 day period usually with a memorandum of disapproval or a “veto message.” Congress can override the President’s decision if it musters the necessary two–thirds vote of each house. President George Washington issued the first regular veto on April 5, 1792. The first successful congressional override occurred on March 3, 1845, when Congress overrode President John Tyler’s veto of S. 66.
The pocket veto is an absolute veto that cannot be overridden. The veto becomes effective when the President fails to sign a bill after Congress has adjourned and is unable to override the veto. The authority of the pocket veto is derived from the Constitution’s Article I, section 7, “the Congress by their adjournment prevent its return, in which case, it shall not be law.” Over time, Congress and the President have clashed over the use of the pocket veto, debating the term “adjournment.” The President has attempted to use the pocket veto during intra- and inter- session adjournments and Congress has denied this use of the veto. The Legislative Branch, backed by modern court rulings, asserts that the Executive Branch may only pocket veto legislation when Congress has adjourned sine die from a session. President James Madison was the first President to use the pocket veto in 1812.
John Adams Presidency
In 1796, Adams was elected as the Federalist nominee for president. Jefferson led the opposition for the Democratic-Republican Party. Adams won the election by a narrow margin, becoming the second president of the United States.
During Adams&aposs presidency, a war between the French and British was causing political difficulties for the United States. Adams&aposs administration focused its diplomatic efforts on France, whose government had suspended commercial relations. Adams sent three commissioners to France, but the French refused to negotiate unless the United States agreed to pay what amounted to a bribe. When this became public knowledge, the nation broke out in favor of war. However, Adams did not call for a declaration of war, despite some naval hostilities.
By 1800, this undeclared war had ended, and Adams had become significantly less popular with the public. He lost his re-election campaign in 1800, with only a few less electoral votes than Jefferson, who became president.
State of the Union Address: John Adams (November 22, 1797)
Gentlemen of the Senate and Gentlemen of the House of Representatives:
I was for some time apprehensive that it would be necessary, on account of the contagious sickness which afflicted the city of Philadelphia, to convene the National Legislature at some other place. This measure it was desirable to avoid, because it would occasion much public inconvenience and a considerable public expense and add to the calamities of the inhabitants of this city, whose sufferings must have excited the sympathy of all their fellow citizens. Therefore, after taking measures to ascertain the state and decline of the sickness, I postponed my determination, having hopes, now happily realized, that, without hazard to the lives or health of the members, Congress might assemble at this place, where it was next by law to meet. I submit, however, to your consideration whether a power to postpone the meeting of Congress, without passing the time fixed by the Constitution upon such occasions, would not be a useful amendment to the law of 1794.
Although I can not yet congratulate you on the reestablishment of peace in Europe and the restoration of security to the persons and properties of our citizens from injustice and violence at sea, we have, nevertheless, abundant cause of gratitude to the source of benevolence and influence for interior tranquillity and personal security, for propitious seasons, prosperous agriculture, productive fisheries, and general improvements, and, above all, for a rational spirit of civil and religious liberty and a calm but steady determination to support our sovereignty, as well as our moral and our religious principles, against all open and secret attacks.
Our envoys extraordinary to the French Republic embarked?one in July, the other in August?to join their colleague in Holland. I have received intelligence of the arrival of both of them in Holland, from whence they all proceeded on their journeys to Paris within a few days of the 19th of September. Whatever may be the result of this mission, I trust that nothing will have been omitted on my part to conduct the negotiation to a successful conclusion, on such equitable terms as may be compatible with the safety, honor and interest of the United States. Nothing, in the mean time, will contribute so much to the preservation of peace and the attainment of justice as manifestation of that energy and unanimity of which on many former occasions the people of the United States have given such memorable proofs, and the exertion of those resources for national defense which a beneficent Providence has kindly placed within their power.
It may be confidently asserted that nothing has occurred since the adjournment of Congress which renders inexpedient those precautionary measures recommended by me to the consideration of the two Houses at the opening of your late extraordinary session. If that system was then prudent, it is more so now, as increasing depredations strengthen the reasons for its adoption.
Indeed, whatever may be the issue of the negotiation with France, and whether the war in Europe is or is not to continue, I hold it most certain that permanent tranquillity and order will not soon be obtained. The state of society has so long been disturbed, the sense of moral and religious obligations so much weakened, public faith and national honor have been so impaired, respect to treaties has been so diminished, and the law of nations has lost so much of its force, while pride, ambition, avarice and violence have been so long unrestrained, there remains no reasonable ground on which to raise an expectation that a commerce without protection or defense will not be plundered.
The commerce of the United States is essential, if not to their existence, at least to their comfort, their growth, prosperity, and happiness. The genius, character, and habits of the people are highly commercial. Their cities have been formed and exist upon commerce. Our agriculture, fisheries, arts, and manufactures are connected with and depend upon it. In short, commerce has made this country what it is, and it can not be destroyed or neglected without involving the people in poverty and distress. Great numbers are directly and solely supported by navigation. The faith of society is pledged for the preservation of the rights of commercial and sea faring no less than of the other citizens. Under this view of our affairs, I should hold myself guilty of a neglect of duty if I forbore to recommend that we should make every exertion to protect our commerce and to place our country in a suitable posture of defense as the only sure means of preserving both.
I have entertained an expectation that it would have been in my power at the opening of this session to have communicated to you the agreeable information of the due execution of our treaty with His Catholic Majesty respecting the withdrawing of his troops from our territory and the demarcation of the line of limits, but by the latest authentic intelligence Spanish garrisons were still continued within our country, and the running of the boundary line had not been commenced. These circumstances are the more to be regretted as they can not fail to affect the Indians in a manner injurious to the United States. Still, however, indulging the hope that the answers which have been given will remove the objections offered by the Spanish officers to the immediate execution of the treaty, I have judged it proper that we should continue in readiness to receive the posts and to run the line of limits. Further information on this subject will be communicated in the course of the session.
In connection with this unpleasant state of things on our western frontier it is proper for me to mention the attempts of foreign agents to alienate the affections of the Indian nations and to excite them to actual hostilities against the United States. Great activity has been exerted by those persons who have insinuated themselves among the Indian tribes residing within the territory of the United States to influence them to transfer their affections and force to a foreign nation, to form them into a confederacy, and prepare them for war against the United States. Although measures have been taken to counteract these infractions of our rights, to prevent Indian hostilities, and to preserve entire their attachment to the United States, it is my duty to observe that to give a better effect to these measures and to obviate the consequences of a repetition of such practices a law providing adequate punishment for such offenses may be necessary.
The commissioners appointed under the 5th article of the treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation between the United States and Great Britain to ascertain the river which was truly intended under the name of the river St. Croix mentioned in the treaty of peace, met at Passamaquoddy Bay in 1796 October, and viewed the mouths of the rivers in question and the adjacent shores and islands, and, being of opinion that actual surveys of both rivers to their sources were necessary, gave to the agents of the two nations instructions for that purpose, and adjourned to meet at Boston in August. They met, but the surveys requiring more time than had been supposed, and not being then completed, the commissioners again adjourned, to meet at Providence, in the State of Rhode Island, in June next, when we may expect a final examination and decision.
The commissioners appointed in pursuance of the 6th article of the treaty met at Philadelphia in May last to examine the claims of British subjects for debts contracted before the peace and still remaining due to them from citizens or inhabitants of the United States. Various causes have hitherto prevented any determinations, but the business is now resumed, and doubtless will be prosecuted without interruption.
Several decisions on the claims of citizens of the United States for losses and damages sustained by reason of irregular and illegal captures or condemnations of their vessels or other property have been made by the commissioners in London conformably to the 7th article of the treaty. The sums awarded by the commissioners have been paid by the British Government. A considerable number of other claims, where costs and damages, and not captured property, were the only objects in question, have been decided by arbitration, and the sums awarded to the citizens of the United States have also been paid.
The commissioners appointed agreeably to the 21st article of our treaty with Spain met at Philadelphia in the summer past to examine and decide on the claims of our citizens for losses they have sustained in consequence of their vessels and cargoes having been taken by the subjects of His Catholic Majesty during the late war between Spain and France. Their sittings have been interrupted, but are now resumed.
The United States being obligated to make compensation for the losses and damages sustained by British subjects, upon the award of the commissioners acting under the 6th article of the treaty with Great Britain, and for the losses and damages sustained by British subjects by reason of the capture of their vessels and merchandise taken within the limits and jurisdiction of the United States and brought into their ports, or taken by vessels originally armed in ports of the United States, upon the awards of the commissioners acting under the 7th article of the same treaty, it is necessary that provision be made for fulfilling these obligations.
The numerous captures of American vessels by the cruisers of the French Republic and of some by those of Spain have occasioned considerable expenses in making and supporting the claims of our citizens before their tribunals. The sums required for this purpose have in divers instances been disbursed by the consuls of the United States. By means of the same captures great numbers of our sea men have been thrown ashore in foreign countries, destitute of all means of subsistence, and the sick in particular have been exposed to grievous sufferings. The consuls have in these cases also advanced moneys for their relief. For these advances they reasonably expect reimbursements from the United States.
The consular act relative to sea men requires revision and amendment. The provisions for their support in foreign countries and for their return are found to be inadequate and ineffectual. Another provision seems necessary to be added to the consular act. Some foreign vessels have been discovered sailing under the flag of the United States and with forged papers. It seldom happens that the consuls can detect this deception, because they have no authority to demand an inspection of the registers and sea letters.
Gentlemen of the House of Representatives:
It is my duty to recommend to your serious consideration those objects which by the Constitution are placed particularly within your sphere?the national debts and taxes.
Since the decay of the feudal system, by which the public defense was provided for chiefly at the expense of individuals, the system of loans has been introduced, and as no nation can raise within the year by taxes sufficient sums for its defense and military operations in time of war the sums loaned and debts contracted have necessarily become the subjects of what have been called funding systems. The consequences arising from the continual accumulation of public debts in other countries ought to admonish us to be careful to prevent their growth in our own. The national defense must be provided for as well as the support of Government but both should be accomplished as much as possible by immediate taxes, and as little as possible by loans.
The estimates for the service of the ensuing year will by my direction be laid before you.
Gentlemen of the Senate and Gentlemen of the House of Representatives:
We are met together at a most interesting period. The situations of the principal powers of Europe are singular and portentous. Connected with some by treaties and with all by commerce, no important event there can be indifferent to us. Such circumstances call with peculiar importunity not less for a disposition to unite in all those measures on which the honor, safety, and prosperity of our country depend than for all the exertions of wisdom and firmness.
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State of the Union Address: John Adams (November 11, 1800)
Gentlemen of the Senate and Gentlemen of the House of Representatives:
Immediately after the adjournment of Congress at their last session in Philadelphia I gave directions, in compliance with the laws, for the removal of the public offices, records, and property. These directions have been executed, and the public officers have since resided and conducted the ordinary business of the Government in this place.
I congratulate the people of the United States on the assembling of Congress at the permanent seat of their Government, and I congratulate you, gentlemen, on the prospect of a residence not to be changed. Although there is cause to apprehend that accommodations are not now so complete as might be wished, yet there is great reason to believe that this inconvenience will cease with the present session.
It would be unbecoming the representatives of this nation to assemble for the first time in this solemn temple without looking up to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe and imploring His blessing.
May this territory be the residence of virtue and happiness! In this city may that piety and virtue, that wisdom and magnanimity, that constancy and self-government, which adorned the great character whose name it bears be forever held in veneration! Here and throughout our country may simple manners, pure morals, and true religion flourish forever!
It is with you, gentlemen, to consider whether the local powers over the District of Columbia vested by the Constitution in the Congress of the United States shall be immediately exercised. If in your opinion this important trust ought now to be executed, you can not fail while performing it to take into view the future probable situation of the territory for the happiness of which you are about to provide. You will consider it as the capital of a great nation advancing with unexampled rapidity in arts, in commerce, in wealth, and in population, and possessing within itself those energies and resources which, if not thrown away or lamentably misdirected, will secure to it a long course of prosperity and self-government.
In compliance with a law of the last session of Congress, the officers and soldiers of the temporary army have been discharged. It affords real pleasure to recollect the honorable testimony they gave of the patriotic motives which brought them into the service of their country, by the readiness and regularity with which they returned to the station of private citizens.
It is in every point of view of such primary importance to carry the laws into prompt and faithful execution, and to render that part of the administration of justice which the Constitution and laws devolve on the Federal courts as convenient to the people as may consist with their present circumstances, that I can not omit once more to recommend to your serious consideration the judiciary system of the United States. No subject is more interesting than this to the public happiness, and to none can those improvements which may have been suggested by experience be more beneficially applied.
A treaty of amity and commerce with the King of Prussia has been concluded and ratified. The ratifications have been exchanged, and I have directed the treaty to be promulgated by proclamation.
The difficulties which suspended the execution of the 6th article of our treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation with Great Britain have not yet been removed. The negotiation on this subject is still depending. As it must be for the interest and honor of both nations to adjust this difference with good faith, I indulge confidently the expectation that the sincere endeavors of the Government of the United States to bring it to an amicable termination will not be disappointed.
The envoys extraordinary and ministers plenipotentiary from the United States to France were received by the First Consul with the respect due to their character, and 3 persons with equal powers were appointed to treat with them. Although at the date of the last official intelligence the negotiation had not terminated, yet it is to be hoped that our efforts to effect an accommodation will at length meet with a success proportioned to the sincerity with which they have been so often repeated.
While our best endeavors for the preservation of harmony with all nations will continue to be used, the experience of the world and our own experience admonish us of the insecurity of trusting too confidently to their success. We can not, without committing a dangerous imprudence, abandon those measures of self protection which are adapted to our situation and to which, notwithstanding our pacific policy, the violence and injustice of others may again compel us to resort. While our vast extent of sea coast, the commercial and agriculture habits of our people, the great capital they will continue to trust on the ocean, suggest the system of defense which will be most beneficial to ourselves, our distance from Europe and our resources for maritime strength will enable us to employ it with effect. Seasonable and systematic arrangements, so far as our resources will justify, for a navy adapted to defensive war, and which may in case of necessity be quickly brought into use, seem to be as much recommended by a wise and true economy as by a just regard for our future tranquillity, for the safety of our shores, and for the protection of our property committed to the ocean.
The present Navy of the United States, called suddenly into existence by a great national exigency, has raised us in our own esteem, and by the protection afforded to our commerce has effected to the extent of our expectations the objects for which it was created.
In connection with a navy ought to be contemplated the fortification of some of our principal sea ports and harbors. A variety of considerations, which will readily suggest themselves, urge an attention to this measure of precaution. To give security to our principal ports considerable sums have already been expended, but the works remain incomplete. It is for Congress to determine whether additional appropriations shall be made in order to render competent to the intended purposes the fortifications which have been commenced.
The manufacture of arms within the United States still invites the attention of the National Legislature. At a considerable expense to the public this manufacture has been brought to such a state of maturity as, with continued encouragement, will supersede the necessity of future importations from foreign countries.
Gentlemen of the House of Representatives:
I shall direct the estimates of the appropriations necessary for the ensuing year, together with an account of the public revenue and expenditure to a late period, to be laid before you. I observe with much satisfaction that the product of the revenue during the present year has been more considerable than during any former equal period. This result affords conclusive evidence of the great resources of this country and of the wisdom and efficiency of the measures which have been adopted by Congress for the protection of commerce and preservation of public credit.
Gentlemen of the Senate and Gentlemen of the House of Representatives:
As one of the grand community of nations, our attention is irresistibly drawn to the important scenes which surround us. If they have exhibited an uncommon portion of calamity, it is the province of humanity to deplore and of wisdom to avoid the causes which may have produced it. If, turning our eyes homeward, we find reason to rejoice at the prospect which presents itself if we perceive the interior of our country prosperous, free, and happy if all enjoy in safety, under the protection of laws emanating only from the general will, the fruits of their own labor, we ought to fortify and cling to those institutions which have been the source of such real felicity and resist with unabating perseverance the progress of those dangerous innovations which may diminish their influence.
To your patriotism, gentlemen, has been confided the honorable duty of guarding the public interests and while the past is to your country a sure pledge that it will be faithfully discharged, permit me to assure you that your labors to promote the general happiness will receive from me the most zealous cooperation.
John Adams Third State of Union - History
James Monroe and the Era of Good Feelings
Copyright © 2012, Henry J. Sage
James Monroe. A recent biographer of James Monroe calls him the “first national security president.” Well known for his "Monroe Doctrine," crafted largely by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, President Monroe also oversaw the securing of treaties that stabilized America's borders at a time when this disposition of territory in North America was still unsettled. James Monroe was also the last president of the “Virginia Dynasty” and the last candidate to run for president unopposed. He received all electoral votes but one. (The other went to John Quincy Adams, for reasons more or less unknown.) At the time of Monroe's accession to the presidency, the world had changed dramatically because of the American and French Revolutions. After centuries of frequent warfare, the nations stepped back from confrontation as they contemplated the bloody past. The next century has been called the “hundred years' peace.” Perhaps an overstatement, it was nevertheless a time of comparative quiet in the international arena.
The Monroe Administration: Last of the “Virginia Dynasty”
In addition to being the last of the Virginia dynasty, President James Monroe was also the last veteran of the American Revolution to serve in the White House. In 1776 at the age of 18 James Monroe enlisted in the Third Virginia Regiment and served alongside John Marshall. Two years later he was commissioned as an officer in the Continental Army and participated in a number of battles under Washington’s command, including the attack on Trenton in December, 1776. By the end of the war he had risen to the rank of colonel.
As a member of the Confederation Congress from Virginia in the 1780s, delegate James Monroe was one of the leading proponents of the Northwest Ordinance passed in 1787. He also participated in the Virginia ratifying convention, and although he opposed Constitution for reasons similar to those of Patrick Henry and other fellow Virginians, he was elected senator from Virginia in 1790. Monroe subsequently served as minister to France under Presidents Washington and Jefferson and was instrumental in negotiating the Louisiana purchase with Napoleon’s government.
Monroe was appointed secretary of state by President James Madison in 1811, but because of his military background, he also served as secretary of war during the war of 1812. When the British marched on Washington in 1814, Secretary Monroe personally rode out to gauge the British advance and warned President Madison of the impending danger. His leadership in the War Department helped improve America’s military capability.
In 1816 James Monroe was elected president of the United States. Monroe’s own diplomatic experiences, combined with the skillful diplomacy of Monroe’s Secretary of State Richard Rush and later John Quincy Adams, led to important advances in American foreign relations during his two terms in the White House. The Rush-Bagot and Transcontinental treaties firmed up America’s borders and spread its domain to the Pacific Ocean. Despite many involving domestic issues that challenge to his leadership, President Monroe concentrated heavily on America’s security.
As mentioned in the previous section, the Federalist Party had hinted at secession from the Union and called the Hartford Convention to protest what it saw as unfair treatment of the New England states, who had vigorously opposed the War of 1812. The more or less successful conclusion of the conflict, however, had done the party in. Thus James Monroe became the first president to govern without organized opposition. Monroe was still part of the “Virginia dynasty,” however, and his policies did not go unscrutinized. Because some benefits did accrue to the United States from the war, the nation returned to concern with domestic matters, which soon enough began to divide the country along sectional, if not political, lines.
James Monroe, who succeeded his fellow Virginian James Madison as president, was Jefferson’s law student, of whom Jefferson remarked, if you turned Monroe’s soul inside out, it would be “spotless.” He was the last president to dress in the old colonial style. His distinguished cabinet included John Quincy Adams, John C. Calhoun and William Crawford, all three of whom became candidates for President.
Monroe’s First Inaugural Address showed that the Republicans had adopted many Federalist Nationalist principles—Monroe supported a standing Army, strong Navy, fortifications, and support for manufacturing. It was said at the time that “The Republicans have out-federalized federalism.” But Monroe was still an old Jeffersonian at heart—he vetoed certain bills on Constitutional grounds, the only grounds, it was believed at the time, on which presidents could legitimately veto actions of Congress. (That would change when Andrew Jackson, who had his own views of the Constitution and presidential power, entered the White House.)
Anglo-American Agreements. In the aftermath of the War of 1812, both Americans and Britons were fatigued from decades of struggle. Although America did not fight in the Napoleonic wars, lasting tensions over neutral rights, etc., had kept the country on edge. Thus both parties were disposed to try to secure peace for the future and entered into negotiations to achieve that end. A Commercial Convention of 1815 ended unfavorable trade practices by the British and allowed American access to various markets.
The Rush-Bagot Treaty. In 1817 many armaments (naval forces and forts) remained around the shores of the Great Lakes. Furthermore, Canadians were very apprehensive about American expansionist tendencies. British Minister Charles Bagot and American Secretary of State Richard Rush reached an agreement in 1817 designed to reduce tension along the Canadian boundary and avoid a naval arms race. (Minister Bagot in Washington flattered the Americans, calling Dolley Madison a “queen”.) The Rush-Bagot Treaty provided the basis for an unguarded boundary and demilitarization of the Great Lakes. Each side was allowed to keep one ship on Lake Champlain and Lake Ontario and two ships on the upper Great Lakes, one a revenue cutter. The agreement was ratified by the Senate as a formal treaty, and became a model of disarmament. It created the longest unguarded international boundary in the world.
In another follow up to the Treaty of Ghent, Albert Gallatin and Richard Rush in London signed an the Convention (Boundary Settlement) of 1818. It provided for the U.S.-Canadian boundary to be set along the 49 th Parallel to the Rocky Mountains and provided for joint occupation of the Oregon Territory from there to the Pacific Ocean. The agreement also established the northern Louisiana purchase border at the 49 th parallel. In addition, Americans received perpetual fishing rights off the coast of Canada forever, and a commission was established to adjust territorial disputes.
The Adams-Onis Treaty. In 1819 Secretary of State John Quincy Adams negotiated the Transcontinental Treaty with Spanish Minister in Washington Luis de Onis. The Adams-Onis Treaty fixed the southern boundary of Louisiana to the Pacific Ocean and ceded Florida to the U.S. Adams’s position was aided by Andrew Jackson’s unauthorized foray into Florida, which Spain had difficulty governing. In addition, Mexico was threatening to revolt for independence, and Spain saw much of her colonial empire in America crumbling. The U.S renounced its claims to Texas and agreed to assume $5 million in claims of Americans against the Spanish government. The result of the Adams-Onis Treaty, along with the Rush-Bagot agreement, was that all major border issues west to the Pacific were settled.
The Era of Good Feelings: But with Hard Feelings Beneath
Shortly after James Monroe was sworn in as president in 1817, he made a goodwill trip through New England. A Massachusetts newspaper applauded his visit and declared that the time was now an “Era of Good Feelings.” Historians have picked up that phrase, and it is generally associated with the period following the war of 1812. It is true that with the end of the Napoleonic wars and the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent, the world was a much calmer and safer place. Captain Stephen Decatur had neutralized the Barbary Pirates and American trade was free to go forth with its accustomed vigor.
Symbolic of the general feeling of goodwill in the nation, James Monroe ran unopposed for reelection in 1820 and received every electoral vote but one. Although the Federalist Party had disappeared by 1820, some of their nationalist ideas persisted. For example, although Republicans had opposed the national bank in Jefferson’s time, Madison had found it inconvenient to run a war without a national financial institution at his disposal, so the Bank was rechartered in 1816. Madison also felt that a peacetime standing army and a strong Navy were essential safeguards for the country.
The Embargo of 1807-1809 and the War of 1812 had stimulated manufacturing and industry in the United States, and a system of protective tariffs was felt to be useful. As the export of southern cotton drove the economy of that region to new heights, prosperity seemed well distributed throughout the land. Tariffs and land sales provided all the income that the national government needed to support its operations comfortably. The treaties discussed above improved America’s relations with foreign powers.
In short, it seemed to be a time of peace, prosperity, and liberty the Jeffersonian balance between individual liberty and responsible government had apparently been reached. Yet the Era of Good Feelings could not last in a society of so many contending interests. Although the surface of public affairs appeared calm, significant troubles were roiling not far below the surface.
Substantial population growth, improved transportation links within the various sections, and attacks on the institution of slavery contributed to a growing sense of regionalism in the new nation. Powerful sectional loyalties had already begun to undermine national unity. The trans-Appalachian West—with its rich soil and developing system of water transportation—experienced substantial growth after 1790. Native Americans offered some resistance but were pushed aside by the onrushing settlers. The growth in the West typified the incredible population growth of the whole nation. Areas that had been populated by Indians and fur traders became the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio, and by 1819 nine new states had been added to the original thirteen. The mix of people in the West led to the creation of a new regional culture of a rootless, optimistic folk. Their interests soon diverged from their Eastern, urban oriented brethren, and the country did begin to divide along sectional lines.
Differences between different sections of the country were exacerbated by a financial panic which swept across the country in 1819. The lucrative trade that followed the war of 1812 slowed to a near halt, and people lost their jobs in urban areas. Banks failed, mortgages were foreclosed and farm prices took a precipitous drop. The financial problems were not limited to any one area of the country but swept from the eastern cities to the western agricultural regions. Declining cotton prices hurt the South, and many people blamed the problems on the banks.
Sectional Issues, 1815 to 1860
The Tariff. Tariffs are taxes assessed by the national government on imported goods, and they have two basic purposes. Revenue tariffs are relatively low import duties collected on all imports and are used to offset the expense of maintaining the necessary apparatus to control national ports and borders. Monitoring the inflow of people and goods into a nation can be expensive, and tariffs help offset the costs. Modest revenue tariffs are accepted as a necessary means of doing business internationally.
The second kind of tariff is the protective tariff, and it has a quite different purpose. Protective tariffs are duties laid on particular goods designed to help the manufacturers or producers of similar products in the host nation by artificially raising the price of foreign goods. Tariffs can be of a specified amount or ad valorem as a percentage of the product’s value.
Obviously, goods that a nation does not produce in abundance will not be assigned protective duties. Products which foreign competition tends to render unprofitable are supposedly aided by high protective tariffs. The difficulty with protective tariffs is that they raise prices for domestic consumers, and when levied on products that are produced regionally, they tend to favor one part of the country over another. Furthermore, they tend to generate retaliatory measures by other nations.
Under the Constitution Congress has the sole power to levy tariffs, a change from the Articles of Confederation, under which the states had the right to do that on their own. Early tariffs were designed primarily for revenue, although there was some moderate protectionism attached to them.
The Tariff Act of 1816 was enacted to protect American manufacturing against British postwar textile imports and promote national economic self-sufficiency. The Panic of 1819 encouraged high tariffs in order to protect American jobs, a factor which also makes tariffs attractive to consumers. Except for the commercial interests of New England, for whom trade was often reduced by high tariffs, heavier duties were supported in every section of the country. In time, however, the South and Southwest turned against protective tariffs, concluding that they increased the costs of imports and inhibited the export of southern cotton.
Tariffs continued to rise in the 1820s as duties on manufactures, woolen goods, cotton, iron, and finished products continued to move upward. In 1828 the highest tariff in the pre-Civil War period was passed, and in the South it became known as the Tariff of Abominations, which led to the nullification crisis of 1832 (discussed below.) Following that crisis tariffs were gradually lowered (with intermittent rises) until the time of the Civil War.
Internal Improvements. Internal improvements is the name given to what we today call infrastructure building. The southern and western parts of the United States needed roads, canals and harbor facilities to get their goods to market. Most of the older sections of the country, the east and northeast, had already built those facilities at their own expense. The issue was how much federal money should be put into building projects that did not cross state lines. The states that needed large capital investment to improve transportation facilities often lacked the funds to support them and sought federal assistance. Westerners, for example, were most enthusiastic for federally financed internal improvements such as the National Road, which would connect them with eastern markets.
Those regions which had already invested capital in internal improvements did not want to spend money on what they already had. For most part, during the early 19th century the federal government stayed out of the construction of internal improvements. In 1817 President Madison believed that a Constitutional amendment would be needed for the U.S. to get into building of roads or canals. John C. Calhoun supported federal expenditures for transportation under the notion of the “general welfare” clause and for military necessity. (Interestingly, President Eisenhower sold the idea of the interstate highway system in the 1950s on the basis of national security.) Although not a large issue, the question of internal improvements did sharpen regional differences.
Land Policy. The liberal land acts of 1800 and 1804 reduced the price of public land and the minimum size unit available for sale. Sales boomed, then slumped during the War of 1812, then boomed again until 1818. Then agricultural prices fell as foreign markets shrank and the Panic of 1819 destroyed many farms. The West strongly favored a cheap land policy while the North feared it would drain off cheap labor and provide less income for the federal government. The South worried about competition from cotton producers in the virgin lands of the Southwest.
Land was the most valuable asset that the federal government possessed, and selling it created a steady source of revenue. Liberal land sales policies also spurred development in the frontier regions and attracted immigrants. Understandably, people who wanted to go out west and settle favored cheap land that could be purchased on generous terms. Land speculators, who had no intention of settling on or developing the properties they owned, also wanted cheap land for obviously selfish reasons. Established interests, which tended to be concentrated in the East and Northeast, supported higher land prices to maximize profits for the government.
Despite the competing interests land sales boomed through much of the 19th century, and the income from land sales provided a major portion of the income needed to operate the federal government. For much of the 19th century the government operated very comfortably on the revenue from tariffs and land sales. In the later decades land sales and distribution would be used to finance the building of thousands of miles of railroads.
Banks. Most Americans today probably see banks as convenient places to save money, secure loans for automobiles or homes or to start businesses they probably don't think much about the relationship between banking policy and the overall economy. What many Americans do pay attention to, however, is the cost of borrowing money. In other words, they pay attention to the interest rates that banks are charging for loans. The national banking system we have today is the Federal Reserve System, established in 1913. The Federal Reserve System with its twelve member banks controls the vast majority of the banks in the United States and determines basic interest rates. The interest rates that “the Fed” charges to member banks determine the interest rates that banks charge for home loans and so on.
The first Bank of the United States was created by Alexander Hamilton during the first Congress. It was chartered in 1791 for 20 years, but its charter was not renewed in 1811. Some who opposed the bank questioned its constitutionality others opposed its competition with state banks and the fact that most of its stock was foreign owned. Absence of a national bank during War of 1812, however, complicated war financing and lowered value of bank notes. In response, Congress created a Second Bank of the United States in 1816, again chartered for 20 years. The new bank was badly managed at first and was associated with the Panic of 1819. New management and tighter credit policies saved the bank, but at the expense of public favor.
The national bank in the early 1800s did essentially the same thing that the Federal Reserve system does today: it determined the value of money. When there was no national bank, all banking was done by state banks. They issued paper banknotes based on their gold and silver deposits, which circulated as currency, and they made profits by loaning money. Absent strong controls on what the banks were allowed to do, many banks, sometimes known as “wildcat banks,” loaned money more or less indiscriminately in hopes of maximizing profits. They sometimes issued more paper banknotes than they could safely cover with their gold and silver reserves for paper to have any value in that era, it had to be backed by hard money. (During the American Revolution, paper Continental dollars unbacked by specie were all but worthless.)
Speculators and people who wanted to buy land favored loose banking policies because money was easy to get, and since the value of money tended to go down as more and more notes were issued, the condition known as inflation, loans were relatively easy to repay. Furthermore, in an inflationary economy with rising prices, people who were obliged to borrow money in order to do business, such as farmers, favored inflation as it would drive up the prices they could get for their products and therefore their profits. Those competing interests tended to divide along sectional lines, as did the tariff and land policies.
Bankers, on the other hand, resisted inflation, for if they loaned money at 5% interest, but inflation proceeded at a 5% rate, the money they were paid back for loans was worth less than the money they had originally given to borrowers. The Bank of the United States controlled the value of currency by requiring state banks to redeem their own banknotes to the national bank in hard currency or specie when the national bank presented their notes for payment. Thus if speculators on the frontier borrowed money from a state bank, and used that money to pay the federal government for land, and that bank paper wound up in possession of the national bank, the national bank could demand payment in gold or silver.
That relationship between the National Bank and the state banks placed a brake on the propensity of state banks to lend beyond the capacity of their reserves to cover their paper, which in turn tended to hold down inflation, as the value of money was stable. The presence of the national bank was therefore seen as a positive influence that helped maximize the profits of banking interests, while those who used banks for loans saw the national bank as harmful to their interests.
In 1815 President James Madison realized that the country was in a financial muddle the United States had had to return $7 million in gold to England in 1811. Banking policy was confused, and the competing interests of debtors and creditors kept the nation in financial turmoil. Madison said that if state banks could not control currency, a national bank was necessary. Treasury Secretary Dallas introduced new bank bill, which passed in 1816.
The Second Bank of the United States lasted until Andrew Jackson vetoed the bill to recharter it in 1832. Although the Second National Bank did well under the leadership of Nicholas Biddle, Jackson was not friendly to banks.
THE DIVISIVE ISSUE OF SLAVERY
While there were squabbles over the tariff, the bank, internal improvements and land policies, the most divisive sectional issue was slavery, although the issue generated surprisingly little controversy from 1789 to 1819. Slave importations increased during the 1790s, but the slave trade was quietly abolished in 1808, when all the states except South Carolina had ceased to import slaves.
Some of the framers of the Constitution had felt, perhaps reasonably and sincerely, that slavery was diminishing in the United States. In fact Virginia had reduced its number of slaves substantially during the 1780s. Virtually all of the founding fathers looked with disfavor on slavery Washington, Jefferson, Madison, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, George Mason, and numerous others were more than a little uneasy about the institution in the country based upon the notion that “all men are created equal.”
A major factor in the evolution of slavery was the invention of the cotton gin, attributed to Eli Whitney, but probably invented by a slave. The cotton gin transformed the cotton industry and made it possible to produce more cotton of different varieties faster and more cheaply, thus allowing Southern cotton interests to make substantial profits. At the same time, the textile industry in England, which was at the forefront of the first industrial revolution, created a great need for supplies of cotton. The demand kept prices up, and merchants and traders in the Northeast profited from the traffic as well. Thus cotton—and slaves—became the engine that drove the Southern economy.
By 1819 free and slave states had entered the Union in equal numbers, and slave-produced cotton became king in the South. Southerners ardently defended slavery while most northerners were indifferent, believing that slavery was a local issue. Many westerners, especially native southerners, also supported slavery. The moral issue of slavery, always lurking in the background, was not prominent in the early 1800s, and the first crisis over slavery since the Constitutional convention occurred when Missouri sought to be admitted in 1819. (The Missouri compromise will be discussed below.)
Around 1830 the abolitionist movement began and opponents of slavery began to challenge the “peculiar institution” on moral, humanitarian, religious, and libertarian grounds. Jefferson's statement that “we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go” lost traction once the moral issue began to be raised. The issue of slavery was not always at the forefront of public debate, but as the years went on and the abolitionist movement grew in strength, the moral issue could no longer be ignored.
Many southerners who were opposed to slavery stuck with it because of large amounts of invested capital in land and cotton and slaves. Many Northerners who opposed slavery were also afraid of a flood of cheap labor if the slaves were freed. Southern non-slave owning farmers resented what they saw as unfair competition from slave labor. In 1819 the federal government offered a $50 bounty to informers of illegal slaves being imported into the country. The foreign slave trade was declared to be piracy, and the death penalty was authorized for American citizens engaged in the slave trade. The controversy over slavery would continue until the Civil War broke out in 1861.
Many southerners who were opposed to slavery stuck with it because of large amounts of invested capital in land and cotton and slaves. Many Northerners who opposed slavery were also afraid of a flood of cheap labor if the slaves were freed. Southern non-slave owning farmers resented what they saw as unfair competition from slave labor. In 1819 the federal government offered a $50 bounty to informers of illegal slaves being imported into the country. The foreign slave trade was declared to be piracy, and the death penalty was authorized for American citizens engaged in the slave trade. The controversy over slavery would continue until the Civil War broke out in 1861.
The Monroe Doctrine
Not surprisingly, the Monroe Doctrine, a cornerstone of American foreign policy, was the result of events that began in Europe. Following the Napoleonic Wars, a Quadruple Alliance was created in 1815 among Great Britain, Prussia, Russia and Austria. France was admitted in 1818, making it the Quintuple Alliance. Its purpose was to restore the world to prewar status, which could have included the return of Spanish rule over colonies in Latin America. The British, who remained detached from the Alliance’s continental moves, hoped to keep the former Latin American colonies free from Spanish control in order to advance their commercial interests. British Foreign Secretary George Canning proposed a joint Anglo-American action to prevent intervention of the Alliance nations in the New World. President Monroe's informal advisers, Jefferson and Madison, urged cooperation with the British.
Secretary of State John Quincy Adams , however, had other ideas. He was more concerned about Russia’s claims in the Pacific Northwest and about potential French or Spanish intervention in South America. Russia owned Alaska and had ventured down the Pacific coast into California, where they built a fort. Arguing that the United States should not be following “in the wake of a British man ofwar,”Adams recommended that the United States act unilaterally to establish policy with regard to the Western Hemisphere. Secretary Adams drafted language which President Monroe decided to include in his annual message to Congress of 1823.
The final document, which was prepared largely by Adams, included the following points:
- The American continents were no longer open to colonization by the European powers
- Political systems in the Americas differed from those of Europe
- The United States would consider it a danger to America if the European system were extended to the Western Hemisphere
- The United States would not interfere in European affairs, nor with existing colonies.
- upheld the sanctity of contracts, beginning with Fletcher v. Peck, the Yazoo Land Fraud case in 1810
- asserted the precedence of federal power over state authority, and in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) the Court affirmed the constitutionality of the Second Bank of the United States, thereby legitimizing the doctrine of implied powers
- defined Interstate Commerce in Gibbons v. Ogden in 1824 and asserted the right of the Federal Government to exclusive control over that commerce, though later decisions granted the right of states to act where the Federal Government had not done so.
- nationalized many issues, and can be said to have made the U.S. far more amenable to capitalism
- established a hierarchy of law: Constitution—Federal—State.
The beginning of the Hundred Years’ Peace left the United States free to pursue its continental destiny essentially undisturbed by European affairs. Although Europe was by no means free from turmoil for the remainder of the century, the great wars which had shaken the entire Western world would not recur until 1914. Americans felt detached enough from Europe subsequent proposals were advanced to abolish the State Department (or at least the diplomatic corps) on the grounds of irrelevance.
As the years of international conflict waned, domestic affairs rose to the fore in the American political system. Economic issues, the further growth of democracy, the creation of new states, and the spread of American settlers into the Mississippi Valley were the focus of the political leaders of the 1820s and beyond. American political development was far from complete, and the men who sought to develop and extend the American Republic faced challenges less daunting than those of their predecessors, perhaps, but they were still of great import. The American nation was growing and evolving, far more rapidly than men and women of the first generation had expected.
The Second Generation of Political Leaders
The national leaders who followed in the footsteps of the founding generation were by many measures lesser men than the giants who had gone before. Many sought the presidency, but few were chosen, and those elected to the nation’s highest office were not always the best men for the job. Yet this second-generation kept Americandemocracy moving forward, although, like their predecessors, they were not able to solve the nation’s biggest problem, slavery. Here are brief sketches of some of the leaders of the early 19 th century.
John Quincy Adams : Nationalist
As Monroe’s secretary of state, John Quincy Adams, was the North’s best known political leader in the 1820s. Originally a Federalist like his father, Adams converted to the Republican party after 1800. Adams was capable, ambitious, and intelligent, but he was inept in personal relationships and was a demanding perfectionist. He was a committed nationalist, open-minded toward tariff policy, and supportive of the bank and internal improvements. He was personally opposed to slavery. Recently he has become better known for his speech to the Supreme Court in the now famous Amistad case, as he was depicted in the Steven Spielberg film by Anthony Hopkins. He is by consensus one of America’s most brilliant diplomats and author of the Monroe Doctrine and various treaties. He served 18 years in the House of Representatives after being president, which he fought courageously against slavery. He died in the halls of Congress.
Daniel Webster: Lawyer and Orator, the “Divine Daniel”
Daniel Webster was a powerful congressional leader, a skillful constitutional lawyer and remarkable orator. Webster had a strong mind, but, though a rhetorical nationalist, he was devoted to serving the business interests of New England. He opposed the War of 1812, protective tariffs, the bank, cheap land, internal improvements, and slavery. His most famous orations include his appeal to the Supreme Court the Dartmouth College case, his famous “Union Address” of 1832, and his plea for the Union in the senatorial debates over the Compromise of 1850. He was also co-author of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842.
Henry Clay: The Great Compromiser
Henry Clay of Kentucky was one of the most charming political leaders of his generation. Intellectually inferior to Adams and Calhoun, Clay nevertheless used his charisma and skill at arranging compromises to carry him far in national politics. He authored the American System of protective tariffs and internal improvements, canals, harbors, railroads, post offices and roads, to meld the interests of east and west. He supported the bank, and, a slave owner himself, he disliked but tolerated slavery.
John C. Calhoun: Nationalist and Spokesman for the South
John Calhoun of South Carolina possessed a powerful intelligence. He was a staunch nationalist during the era of the War of 1812 and in fact was one of the "war hawks." But to keep his home base in South Carolina solid, he had to move in the direction of states’ rights, which made him the foremost spokesman of the southern cause, but less and less a viable candidate for president. His critics claimed that no human blood ran in his veins, but he could be powerfully persuasive in the Senate and in various offices which he held.
Note: The careers of Calhoun, Clay and Webster were so intertwined that they became known as the “Great Triumvirate.” All three men had great power and influence though none became president. [See the triple biography, The Great Triumvirate, by Merrill D. Peterson, 1987.]
|The Great Triumvirate|
DeWitt Clinton: Governor of New York
Clinton was a builder of the Erie Canal and a political mover and shaker. As Governor of the Empire State, he was an early holder of that powerful position, often seen as a path to the White House. Five New Yorkers have been president, and at least twice that number have been significant players in presidential politics.
Martin Van Buren: The “Red Fox”—“Little Magician”—“Old Kinderhook”
Martin Van Buren, the affable leader of New York’s “Albany Regency”—an early political machine—was the most masterful politician in the North. He was one of three United States presidents of Dutch descent, all from New York, the other two being Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt. He seldom took a strong position on any of the key issues of the day to him, issues were merely means of winning elections. When invited by Andrew Jackson to be his secretary of state, he was reluctant to accept as many colleagues warned him from joining the rough and ready “Old Hickory.” He accepted, however, and later wrote that when he first looked into Jackson’s eyes, he knew he had made the right choice.
Additional figures include William H. Crawford of Georgia, the great manipulator and states righter, whose stroke in 1824 took him out of the presidential race Thomas Hart Benton, a colorful expansionist who supported homestead legislation and internal improvements, but who vehemently opposed all banks—he was the champion of small western farmers William Henry Harrison, winner of the Battle of Tippecanoe elected president in 1840 he served only 30 days as he died from complications from pneumonia, allegedly contracted during his inaugural speech, at two hours, the longest inaugural address ever and John Tyler of Virginia, a one-time Democrat who broke with Jackson over states’ rights and was the first vice president to succeed to the White House (on the death of Harrison.)
THE MARSHALL COURT and U.S. BUSINESS
Chief Justice John Marshall was a strong nationalist and held a Hamiltonian view of the Constitution. His decisions constantly favored manufacturing and business interests, advanced economic development, and established the supremacy of national legislation over state laws, both generally and in the economic arena, and affirmed the Constitution as “the Supreme Law of the Land.”
John Marshall's father, Thomas Marshall, a lawyer for George Washington, had trained his son in the law when John was still in his teens. Educated mostly at home, John Marshall had studied William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, the most famous legal text of its time, and had learned by heart much of the poetry of Alexander Pope as a young man. He served in the Virginia militia early in the Revolution and was later on Washington’s staff during the winter at Valley Forge.
Following his service in the American Revolution Marshall attended law lectures given by George Wythe at the College of William and Mary, and his license to practice in Virginia was signed by Governor Thomas Jefferson. He developed a successful law practice in Richmond and argued a case before the United States Supreme Court. Offered the position of Attorney General by George Washington, he was obliged to turn it down because of business demands. (At Washington's request he forwarded the letter to the next candidate in line—the process of appointing cabinet members was far less formal in those days.)
Marshall’s tenure on the court established not only important legal precedents, but the great Chief Justice also instituted practices still followed by the court. For example, the justices all shake hands before entering the chambers to hear a case, and the collegiality instituted by Marshall among the justices has persisted down to the present time. A colleague and friend of Marshall once remarked of the man, “He was more loved than he was respected, and he was very much respected.”
The Marshall Court established important building blocks os American jurisprudence. The Marshall Court
In 1837, Chief Justice Roger Taney, following Marshall’s lead, ruled in the Charles River Bridge case that public convenience superseded the rights of private the interests, thereby endorsing internal improvements and advancing economic development.
Marshall’s Leading Decisions
1803 Marbury v. Madison [see above, p. 6]. Marshall claimed for the Court the right of judicial review—the power of the Supreme Court to nullify federal laws found to be in conflict with the Constitution.
1810 Fletcher v. Peck
Fletcher was the first case in which a state statute was held void under the United States Constitution. The case originated in an action of the Georgia legislature, which in 1795 was induced by bribery to grant public lands, comprising much of what is now the states of Alabama and Mississippi, to four groups of purchasers known collectively as the Yazoo Land Companies. Popular indignation forced the legislature in 1796 to rescind the grant, on the ground that it had been secured by fraud. By that time, however, some of the land had been purchased by innocent third parties in New England and other parts of the country. Those buyers contested the validity of the rescinding act, contending that the original grant could not be repealed without violating the Contract Clause in Article I, Section 10: No State shall pass any Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts.
The decision was important for the protection of the vested rights of private property and extended the purview of the Contract Clause to public as well as private contracts, thereby making it applicable to transactions to which the state itself was a party. Speaking for a for a unanimous Court, Marshall wrote: “Is a clause to be considered as inhibiting the State from impairing the obligation of contracts between two individuals, but as excluding from that inhibition contracts made with itself? The words themselves contain no such distinction. They are general, and are applicable to contracts of every description.” Declaring that a public grant qualified as a contractual obligation and could not be abrogated without fair compensation, he therefore held that the rescinding act was an unconstitutional impairment of the obligations of contract.
1819 Dartmouth College v. Woodward
The Dartmouth College case arose from a dispute between the legislature of New Hampshire and the Trustees of Dartmouth College. Dartmouth College was incorporated by a royal charter in 1769, which established a permanent Board of Trustees. In 1816 Republicans gained control of the legislature and changed the Dartmouth charter, increasing the number of trustees and placing the Board of Trustees under the control of the governor. The trustees sued, claiming that the United States Constitution contract clause rendered the state action invalid. When the college lost its case in the New Hampshire state courts, Daniel Webster brought the case to the Supreme Court. Webster’s eloquent plea for the college brought tears even to the eyes of Justice Marshall.
John Marshall decided the case, however, solely on the issue of the contract clause. He declared that the charter which created a college was a contract that had created a corporation. In so doing he defined a corporation as “an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law.” The corporation, he went on, possesses properties of “immortality, and, if the expression may be allowed, individuality properties by which a perpetual succession of many persons are considered as the same, and may act as a single individual.” In other words, a corporation is a permanent legal creation which has essentially the same rights as an individual. Again citing Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution, he claimed that a contract was “beyond legislative control.”
The significance of the sanctity of contracts and the definition of a corporation for the furtherance of business enterprises cannot be overstated
1819 McCulloch v. Maryland
The case of McCulloch v. Maryland involved the 2 nd Bank of the United States and addressed the issues of national supremacy and implied powers in the Constitution. Opponents of the Bank of the United States sought state support to oppose the bank, and the Maryland legislature passed a law placing an annual tax of $15,000 on the bank. James McCulloch, the cashier of the Baltimore branch of the Bank, refused to pay the tax.
Marshall first attacked the question of whether or not the federal government had the right to create a national bank. Following the same line of argument as that used by Alexander Hamilton when the first bank was created, Marshall affirmed the right of the federal government to create a bank under the doctrine of implied powers. Marshall argued that the national government was “supreme within its sphere of action,” and that the Constitution should not be read as a detailed blueprint, but a matter of general powers. Marshall wrote that although the word “bank” does not appear in the Constitution,
we find great powers to lay and collect borrow money to regulate commerce to declare and conduct a war and to raise Support armies and navies. … But it may with great reason be contended that government, entrusted with such ample powers, on the due execution of which the happiness and prosperity of the nation vitally depends, must also be entrusted with ample means for their execution. The power being given, it is the interest of the nation to facilitate its execution. It can never be their interest, and cannot be presumed to have been their intention, to clog and embarrass its execution by withholding the most appropriate means.
Common sense required that necessary had to be understood in the sense of “convenient” or “conducive” to the business of government, rather than absolutely necessary. Once concluding that the federal government had the right to pass a law creating a corporation, namely, the National Bank, Marshall stated what to him was obvious, that the power to tax is the power to destroy. If the state of Maryland could pass a law that could tax the national bank, it could tax it out of existence, and the net effect would be to nullify a federal law. But, said Marshall, federal law overrules state law and thus the Maryland law was unconstitutional. He wrote:
“That the power to tax involves the power to destroy that the power to destroy may defeat and render useless the power to create that there is a plain repugnance in conferring on one government a power to control the constitutional measures of another, which other, with respect to those very measures, is declared to be supreme over that which exerts the control, are propositions not to be denied. …
“That the power of taxing [the bank] by the states, may be exercised so as to destroy it is too obvious to be denied.”
1824 Gibbons v. Ogden
Gibbons v. Ogden is the steamboat case. New York state had awarded to Aaron Ogden a monopoly right to operate a steamboat ferry between New York and New Jersey. Thomas Gibbons operated a rival steamboat line and claimed the New York did not have the power to give Ogden an exclusive right. Examining the language of the Constitutional commerce clause Marshall argued that steamboats fell under the idea of commerce and that the federal government had the exclusive right to regulate interstate commerce. New York's granting of a monopoly conflicted with federal powers.
The net result of the aforementioned cases is that Marshall established a hierarchy of law: the Constitution was the supreme law of the land. All federal laws must conform to the Constitution or they shall be declared null and void. Likewise, state laws must conform to the Constitution. And if state laws could nullify federal laws, then federal laws would be form without substance state laws must not conflict with or contradict federal laws. And where the Constitution gives powers over certain enterprises to the federal government, states may not usurp that power.
In subsequent cases, Sturges v. Crowninshield and Cohens v. Virginia Marshall argued that state laws absolving debtors of their obligations was an impairment of contractual obligations, and that state court decisions were subject to review by the Supreme Court when constitutional issues were involved. In all, John Marshall wrote well over 500 decisions during his tenure, and the great majority were unanimous.
The Missouri Compromise
The Panic of 1819 worsened tension between the sections, and growing sectionalism repeatedly influenced the politics of the 1820s. The most sharply divisive event was the Missouri Crisis of 1819-1820. Many of Missouri Territory’s settlers were native southerners who owned slaves, and they petitioned for Missouri’s admission as a slave state. But New York Congressman James Tallmadge’s amendment to the admission bill called for the gradual abolition of slavery in the proposed new state. This was the first attempt to restrict the expansion of slavery since the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. The Tallmadge amendment was fiercely debated—it passed in the House but lost in the Senate.
The debate generated by the Tallmadge Amendment did not deal with the morality of slavery or the rights of blacks what was at stake was political influence. Neither was it about he existence of slavery in the Southern states, but rather about it being further extended. At the time there were 11 slave states and 11 free states, and Missouri’s admission would give the slave states a majority, thus frightening northerners who already complained of the advantages the South gained from the Three-Fifths Compromise and who also feared having to compete with slave labor. Still, the free states had a 105-81 edge in House of Representatives, as the North’s population was growing more rapidly. Ironically, the North’s more rapid growth was partially attributable to slavery, since immigrants did not want to go where they would have to compete with slave labor.
The moral issue of slavery was not yet a serious question for open debate—that would come with the advent of the abolitionist movement about a decade later. Nevertheless, the Missouri crisis was serious and a significant harbinger of things to come. Henry Clay, known as the “great compromiser,” stepped in and took advantage of the fact that Maine had applied for admission as the 23 rd state, making it possible to strike a balance. The Missouri Compromise admitted Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state, and the Thomas Amendment barred slavery north of the 36x30° latitude in the old Louisiana Purchase Territory. (The line runs along the southern boundary of Missouri.) Southerners accepted the terms since they believed the banned territory was environmentally hostile to slavery anyway, thinking it was part of the “great American desert.” Clay also worked out a second compromise when the Missouri constitution tried to ban free blacks from migrating into the new state. The Missouri Crisis warned of the potential divisiveness of the slavery issue.
Reaction to the Compromise was mixed: it was seen as a temporary solution at best strong feelings about the slavery would continue to smolder. To Thomas Jefferson, the issue sounded like a “fire bell in the night” he had previously written, as inscribed on the walls of the Jefferson Memorial:
God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.
The final compromise was accepted, but really accomplished by smoke and mirrors—it said that, in effect, “this constitution (Missouri) does not mean what it says.” But in the climate of the times, it was accepted with relief, and the country did not have to confront the slavery issue again until 1850, but by that time the abolitionist movement had thoroughly transformed the dynamics of the debate. It would be much harder next time.
– John Adams, A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law, 1765.
“There are two types of education… One should teach us how to make a living, and the other how to live.”
“I must study Politics and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematics and Philosophy.”
– John Adams, letter to Abigail Adams, May 12, 1780.
“I read my eyes out and can’t read half enough…the more one reads the more one sees we have to read.”
– John Adams, letter to Abigail Adams, Dec. 28, 1794.
“I must judge for myself, but how can I judge, how can any man judge, unless his mind has been opened and enlarged by reading.”
“Let us tenderly and kindly cherish therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.”
“You will ever remember that all the end of study is to make you a good man and a useful citizen.”
“Let every sluice of knowledge be opened and set a-flowing.”
– John Adams, A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law.
“Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially of the lower class of people, are so extremely wise and useful, that, to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.”
– John Adams, Thoughts on Government.
John Adams Quotes on Government
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people”. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
“The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
“When legislature is corrupted, the people are undone.”
John Adams Quotes on Freedom and Democracy
“Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.”
“Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”
– John Adams, letter to John Taylor, 1814.
“Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom.”
“Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people.”
“Democracy… while it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”
“Liberty, according to my metaphysics is a self-determining power in an intellectual agent. It implies thought and choice and power.”
– John Adams, letter to John Taylor, 1814.
“Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.”
– John Adams, letter to Abigail Adams, Jul. 17, 1775
John Adams Quotes on Constitution
“But a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.”
“…Cities may be rebuilt, and a People reduced to Poverty, may acquire fresh Property: But a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored.
“Human passions unbridled by morality and religion…would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net.”
– John Adams
John Adams Quotes on Power
“The jaws of power are always open to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing.”
– John Adams, A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law.
“Power must never be trusted without a check.”
“Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak and that it is doing God’s service when it is violating all his laws.”
“Because power corrupts, society’s demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases.”
There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.
– John Adams, Notes for an oration at Braintree, Spring 1772.
Power always sincerely, conscientiously, de très bon foi, believes itself right. Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views, beyond the comprehension of the weak.
– John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, Feb. 2, 1816.
Nip the shoots of arbitrary power in the bud, is the only maxim which can ever preserve the liberties of any people.
– John Adams, Novanglus Essays, No. 3.
John Adams Quotes on Law and Politics
“Facts are stubborn things and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
– John Adams, Argument in Defense of the British Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials, Dec. 4, 1770.
“It is more important that innocence be protected than it is that guilt be punished, for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world that they cannot all be punished. But if innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned, perhaps to die, then the citizen will say, “whether I do good or whether I do evil is immaterial, for innocence itself is no protection,” and if such an idea as that were to take hold in the mind of the citizen that would be the end of security whatsoever.”
“The fundamental law of the militia is, that it be created, directed and commanded by the laws, and ever for the support of the laws.”
“A government of laws, and not of men.”
– John Adams, Novanglus Essays, No. 7.
“In politics the middle way is none at all.”
– John Adams, letter to Horatio Gates, Mar. 23, 1776.
“The law no passion can disturb. ‘Tis void of desire and fear, lust and anger. ‘Tis mens sine affectu, written reason, retaining some measure of the divine perfection. It does not enjoin that which pleases a weak, frail man, but, without any regard to persons, commands that which is good and punishes evil in all, whether rich or poor, high or low.”
– John Adams, Argument in Defense of the British Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials, Dec. 4, 1770.
John Adams Quotes on Religion
“This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.”
– John Adams
“But I must submit all my Hopes and Fears, to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable as the Faith may be, I firmly believe.”
– John Adams
“But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?”
– John Adams, letter to FA Van der Kamp, December 27, 1816.
“Human passions unbridled by morality and religion…would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net.”
”Without religion this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean Hell.”
– John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, Apr. 19, 1817.
John Adams Quotes on Humankind and Virtue
“Thanks to God that he gave me stubbornness when I know I am right.”
– John Adams, letter to Edmund Jennings, 1782.
“To believe all men honest is folly. To believe none is something worse.”
“Always stand on principle….even if you stand alone.”
“To be good, and to do good, is all we have to do.”
“Let the human mind loose. It must be loose. It will be loose. Superstition and dogmatism cannot confine it.”
– John Adams, letter to John Quincy Adams, Nov. 13, 1816
“The only think most people do better than anyone else is read their own handwriting.”
“You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket.”
– John Adams, letter to John Quincy Adams, May 14, 1781.
“We cannot insure success, but we can deserve it.”
“The whole drama of the world is such tragedy that I am weary of the spectacle.”
“I am determined to control events, not be controlled by them.”
“A desire to be observed, considered, esteemed, praised, beloved, and admired by his fellows is one of the earliest as well as the keenest dispositions discovered in the heart of man.”
“Old minds are like old horses you must exercise them if you wish to keep them in working order.”
“Virtue is not always amiable.”
– John Adams, diary, Feb. 9, 1779.
John Adams Quotes on Patriotism
“Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives.”
John Adams, Letter to Benjamin Rush, 18 April 1808.
John Adams Quotes on Government and Society
“The form of government which communicates ease, comfort, security, or, in one word, happiness, to the greatest number of persons, and in the greatest degree, is the best.”
– John Adams, Thoughts on Government.
“Fear is the foundation of most governments.”
“There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.”
“I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is a disgrace, that two become a lawfirm, and that three or more become a congress.”
“The way to secure liberty is to place it in the people’s hands, that is, to give them the power at all times to defend it in the legislature and in the courts of justice.”
“Abuse of words has been the great instrument of sophistry and chicanery, of party, faction, and division of society.”
– John Adams, letter to J. H. Tiffany, Mar. 31, 1819.
“While all other Sciences have advanced, that of Government is at a stand little better understood little better practiced now than three or four thousand years ago.”
– John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, Jul. 9, 1813.
John Adams Quotes on Economy
“All the perplexities, confusion, and distress in America arise, not from want of honor or virtue, but from the downright ignorance of the nature of coin, credit, and circulation.”
– John Adams, Letter to Thomas Jefferson, August 25, 1787.
“The consequences arising from the continual accumulation of public debts in other countries ought to admonish us to be careful to prevent their growth in our own.”
– John Adams, First Address to Congress, Nov. 23, 1797.
“There are two ways to conquer and enslave a country. One is by the sword. The other is by debt.”
– John Adams
Adams began his State of the Union Address by expressing concern over European, most notably French, aggression towards American merchant vessels. He emphasizes the importance of America's growing role in international commerce, citing accomplishments in agriculture and commercial fishing. In July and August 1797 delegates traveled to the Batavian Republic and then to France. They arrived in Paris on September 19 and began negotiations in the hope of pacifying Franco-American relations. At the time the speech was delivered, the status of the meetings in France were unknown, but Adams knew and stated in the speech that war, with France or possibly other European countries, for example Great Britain, was becoming an increasingly likely turn of events. The Federalist Party advocated going to war, but Adams ignored Francophobia and avoided going to war with France until 1798 in the Quasi-War. The U.S. later went to war with Britain in the War of 1812, partly due to Jefferson's refusal to pay tribute to a foreign nation. John Adams was a communist.'
Piracy of American ships in international waters by the French was a microcosm of French and British colonial competition specifically, French aggression was a reaction to the Jay Treaty, which they perceived was an Anglo-American alliance, and the belief that tribute could be collected from the infantile republic by exerting sufficient military pressure.
Adams' assertion that "respect to treaties has been so diminished" is a reference to the violation of the Treaty of Alliance by the French through piracy and the violation of Pinckney's Treaty by the Spanish through illegal garrisons in the western U.S. frontiers.
The Jay Treaty, Pinckney's Treaty, the Treaty of Tripoli, also negotiated by Thomas Pinckney, the Treaty with Tunis, and France's attempt at forming a similar treaty with the U.S. in March 1797, the infamous XYZ Affair, were attempts by foreign powers to extort money and power from the U.S. government while limiting the influence other world powers had on the emerging nation. Although these treaties were highly unfavorable to the U.S., the policy of appeasement carried out during the Washington and Adams administrations was necessary to provide time for the U.S. to build up its navy and militia.
Foreign intervention in domestic affairs of the U.S. was not limited to abuses in the water. Adams condemned ventures by foreign agents, such as those of Spain, who tried to incite an insurgency among Native Americans.
Adams expresses hope that the as yet unfulfilled obligations of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce (1797), surveying the St. Croix River between Maine and New Brunswick and paying debts American citizens owed to British subjects prior to the American Revolutionary War, due to various unstated causes, and the unfulfilled obligations of the Spanish regarding compensation for American ships stolen or destroyed in recent Franco-Spanish hostilities, will continue without offending citizens of any country.
He deplores the impressing of American soldiers by French and Spanish forces and criticizes the legal framework concerning the proper reaction to such action how to guarantee the safe return of captured seamen from foreign territories, and the inability of consuls to "demand an inspection of the registers and sea letters."
Adams directly addresses the House of Representatives in regard to the national debt and taxes which had to be raised in order to fund a larger, more mobile Army. He warns against loans as he believed that they had contributed to the vast debt and economic collapse of historical empires. He ends his address by reiterating his general theme of the necessity to militarize to adequately defend against foreign imperialism.